Matters of the head and heart

What makes a teacher? A little bit of intelligence, a lot of empathy, a dollop of kindness, a cup of humour, a dab of firmness, a large helping of openness, and a pinch of sternness (optional). Oh, if only those qualities could be bought off a shelf and thrown together in the right combination to produce what we wanted, with toppings to taste!

But the fact is that we do get the right product, so often, and often without even trying.

What exactly is that magic that produces the perfect teacher?

We threw that question at many contributors – teachers, teacher-trainers, principals, parents, and yes, even children. The essays in this issue are the result of that open question. As readers will find, the many perspectives all converge on one important point – a teacher is as much a learner as a facilitator of learning. Qualities of the heart are just as important as qualities of the mind. Knowing the subject is less important than knowing the child.

Much of this may not be a surprise in itself. At an intuitive and commonsense level, we all know what makes a good teacher, even if we are not able to articulate it fully. Yet, so many of our formal teacher training programmes emphasize subject competence and a theoretical understanding of pedagogic principles over the development of a caring and empathetic sensibility. Granted, it’s easier to stuff people with knowledge than to create contexts that nurture these qualities. But the consequences of such an approach to “building teachers” has been dire, and as teachers, we struggle to reclaim our humanity, our soft skills, when we emerge from formal training and take on a room full of children who need much more than literacy and numeracy if they are to become learners for life. Too often, we set aside our own intuitions about handling children and resort to textbook methods that might give us measurable results, but leave us feeling not quite satisfied. We apply the rules of teaching as we have been told they should be applied, but without that secret ingredient that makes the difference between adequate and deep learning. That secret ingredient comes from the teacher’s heart rather than her head.

This Teacher’s Day, perhaps we can take some inspiration from these perspectives and think about what makes us tick – as teachers, as learners, as people. Have a good one!

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