What struck me was a poster which described the schoolmaster as an important figure in the community who had to endure leaking roofs and bored children. He was regarded as an educated man, one of the few in the community and a source of information on the wider world.
Fast forward to the present. In some places, the schoolmaster still has to tolerate leaking roofs, sometimes even to the extent of repairing them. He tries to capture the imagination of inattentive children.
Therefore, to live up to his reputation takes a very individual commitment and endeavour. Hundreds of teachers graduate from teaching colleges and universities each year but the ones who leave lasting impressions on our tender years in the classroom are those whom we regard as educated and knowledgeable, and are rarities.
I believe the key to being a good teacher is to be humble enough to learn. Through my years of teaching, I have been stressed by certain behaviour of students.
Granted, we become strained when students are disrespectful or work is not done. Unfortunately, sometimes we also react negatively to students — whether they are vocal, smart or creative.
Take an actual example of an Asian student in a foreign land. She was called by her teacher to read a page from the 2007 novel A Thousand Splendid Suns by Afghan Khaled Hosseini aloud in class. She pronounced the names of the characters, Mariam, Laila and Jalil, the way they should be pronounced.
Her teacher, who has never been to or lived in Asia, pronounced the names differently and feeling she was challenged was obviously annoyed. She asked: “Are you trying to correct the way I pronounce the names?” With her head down, the student kept quiet but she was burning inside. After all, she has Afghan friends and her aunt had worked in Afghanistan before.
The scenario would have been different if the teacher had used that instance to generate a lively discussion. If she had asked the student why she pronounced the names that way, imagine the myriad of stories the student could share from her experiences with Afghans in that English Literature class.
Humility is a much desired trait. Our minds need to be open to accept the possibility of change and new ideas and revolutionary concepts. Humility helps us thirst after the process of learning and therefore prevents us from falling into the trap of thinking that we know everything.
To quote Elmar T. Schmeisser, a renowned pioneer in the analysis and application of karate kata, the teacher should “learn from his students and do not assume he knows all the truth”. Happy Teachers’ Day!
The writer, who lectured at Universiti Teknologi MARA, now spends her days enjoying life as it is. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more: The NST Article 2011/15/04 The Teacher As Learner