“A teacher affects eternity and can never tell where the influence stops.” – Henry Brooks Adams
School is the place where children spend a considerable part of their young lives away from home, and it is here, during the formative years, that the foundations of friendship are laid, values imbibed, talents and skills discovered and academic knowledge and practice gained.
Most of us in our adult lives can remember that one teacher or teachers we adored, not just for their teaching or their subject, but for the individuals that they were and what they represented. Two of the greatest examples of teachers who made a difference to their students’ lives are Anne Sullivan, who taught Helen Keller how to read, write and speak despite her pronounced disabilities and the former President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam, who remained a teacher first and foremost, right until the time of his passing. So great was his love for children and the cause of education that he even had students at his presidential inauguration! It goes without saying therefore that a teacher is not just one who is well-versed in his/her subject, but also one who has a personality and qualities to match.
Our ancient scriptures equate the teacher or guru to God, but given that education, quality of institutions, parents and students themselves have undergone a sea-change, teaching today is undoubtedly one of the most challenging professions. Yet, it is also one of the most rewarding ones.
So, what really makes a teacher?
- Like any other profession, teachers ought to love their work, as also their pupils. As Steve Jobs said, “The only way to great work is to love what you do.”
- Mastery over subject matter. Teachers must constantly strive to update and upgrade their knowledge and skills along the way. At the end of the day, learning is a continuous and lifelong process, which teachers must embrace with enthusiasm and diligence.
- True education is not just about classroom teaching; it is about relating concepts and knowledge to real-life situations and contexts. Let teaching not be a one-way street; encourage students to be active participants in their learning.
- Dedication to excellence is a must. Teaching must be done in a clear and structured fashion, and students should be aware of what is expected of them. Teachers should be organized with their lesson plans and be consistent in grading. Class work and assignments should be returned on time. Encourage and reward achievement but deal with problems in a constructive manner.
- Confidence is key. A teacher needs to be well-balanced and capable of handling all kinds of students and situations with poise and calm. At times, he/she will be called upon to deal with emergencies, interpersonal conflicts or home situations that are affecting the students. Empathy and patience would then be of utmost importance.
- A teacher must be a good role model, since kids learn so much by observing. What is left unspoken is often times more powerful than words. A teacher ought to be a source of inspiration to the students.
- Personal qualities, grooming and value system – a teacher should never stop learning and growing as an individual. While no individual can be perfect, a teacher should be well-turned out, empathetic, passionate, engaging, resourceful, organized, trustworthy, ethical and a good communicator.
- Teachers should take their students on a wonderful journey each day. Remember, enthusiasm is contagious and a teacher will go a much longer way when he/she takes the time to know the students at an individual level, encouraging their strengths and helping them overcome their shortcomings.
- Discipline and classroom management – teachers should give students freedom with boundaries, practice firmness along with kindness and try to remain unbiased and forgiving in situations of conflict.
- Teachers must be open to new ideas and exercise independent thinking. Classroom teaching is not merely giving notes, homework or projects, it is about making concepts interesting, using technology and innovative teaching methods wherever required. For that, one needs to have an open mind and a willingness to learn, share and collaborate with others at times.
- Teachers should be able to work independently as well as in a team, when required. While a teacher may be the leader of her classroom, she must participate and work together for the success of her fellow teachers and institution, whenever required.
- Teachers can make or mar their students’ futures. There are instances where a teacher has been able to recognize and tap the talents of his/her students and others, where unfortunately, students have been put off a subject for good. “Study after study shows the single most important factor determining the quality of education a child receives is the quality of their teacher.” A teacher ought to be a friend, philosopher and guide.
- A teacher should take pride in her students’ accomplishments, while devoting care and time towards those who require it.
- Desire to make a difference in the lives of young people. It is always heartening to have students return, sometimes after many years with their success stories and to know that the teacher had a part to play in it.
- Be accessible to students at all times and build and grow trust.
Of course, in the present day scenario, being a teacher is extremely challenging as the younger generations have access to technology and information in abundance. And all too often, teachers are not accorded their due by the society. It is no longer a profession of choice. But teachers are a necessity and good ones, all the more so. A teacher’s contribution to an individual’s growth is an invaluable asset towards the welfare of the society and the nation as a whole.
Rama Devi is the Senior Principal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Public School (Vidyashram), Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad. She has been working with the institution for the last 37 years in various positions of responsibility. Rama Devi has been the recipient of several awards notably the CBSE Best Teacher Award 2006, Jindal Award for Best Teacher 2008 and National Award to Teachers 2010, given by Ministry of Human Resource Development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.