kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

In praise of teachers

ROLE MODELS: Great educators are the bedrock of any successful education system

RECENTLY as I was driving home from a long day of meetings and teaching, I began reflecting on the impact that teachers had on my life.

Driving down the freeway at 7.30pm on my way home I wondered where I would be if not for some of the teachers I had during my schooling.

From primary school all the way to university, I reflected on the influence that some of my teachers had on me.

Driving through the early evening traffic gives you a chance to reflect and the night solidified for me something that perhaps I had taken for granted.

I would not be who I am today were it not for the input effort and example of some of the great teachers I have had.

I still recall the huge turn around that happened to me when in Grade Six, my class teacher Mr Westacott showed belief in me.

I loved his class and was so happy to go to school and work hard, in part because his approach to teaching inspired me and helped build my self-confidence.

The truth is I remember primary school as difficult and the impact of Mr Westacott and several other teachers at the time really changed things for me.

In secondary school, I still remember, among many, the wise approach and confidence-building style of Mr Borton, my Economics teacher.

I still recall his encouragement. What really struck me was his willingness to allow debate in class and the way he encouraged and celebrated the fact that we had to think for ourselves.

If we disagreed with him, it was fine, and I learned a lot about how teachers can inspire a love of thinking, argument and engagement with complex subject matter. Dare I mention our rugby coach Mr Maggs whose positive support and love of the game still provide fond memories.

At university, I was fortunate enough to have had quite a few great teachers. Four of them stand out to me to this day.

Ferenc Feher was my honours supervisor. Feher himself had been a student of Georg Lukács and, along with his wife Agnes Heller and several others, constituted what was known at the time as the Budapest School.

To this day, I feel a deep sense of motivation and awe when I think of Feher. An intellectual par excellence,

Feher inspired me as perhaps no other teacher has. I still recall being riveted by his lectures and rushing to his tutorials where we would discuss and debate social theory. He was a man committed to genuine and engaged learning.

I still recall going to a soiree at his home and there on the bookshelves, among the vast array of books, was the Oeuvres complètes de Maximilien Robespierre. Can you imagine looking up at such a sight?

At my dinner table when we have guests and if the subject turns to intellectual influences, I still regale my friends with the "you should have seen his book collection" story.

Feher's love of learning and his genuine and deep intellectual cast of mind influenced my idea of a university academic and intellectual.

His book collection, which, of course, was shared with his equally inspiring wife and profound intellectual Heller, is still an example of love of and respect for learning.

One of the other three university teachers who I have great respect for was Peter Gill who supervised my first doctoral work.

His attention to detail in going through the countless drafts and his broad and humane learning grounded as it was in a deep appreciation of the history of ideas is something I will always remember fondly. He was a teacher of the old school, committed and well-read.

Dennis Altman, who supervised my second PhD, was a supervisor who let his student follow his own intellectual path. What he expected was hard work and commitment, and he would debate with me the strengths and weaknesses of positions or arguments I would take.

He never tried to make me follow a line or fit my arguments to a pre-existing position. He genuinely allowed intellectual freedom, but he required the highest standard. I remember his supervision and teaching fondly and with great respect.

Finally, Bruce Jacobs, who taught me Chinese politics and whose willingness to debate with me and go through draft after draft of one of my honours essays, I still recall as a classical expression of good old fashioned care and effort.

Tese teachers are the benchmarks against which I judge excellence in teaching and the intellectual life.

Readers will also remember those teachers who inspired them or perhaps, in a fashion, even saved them.

You will recall the example of hard work, integrity and inspiration that you found from these teachers. I think that our recognition of the good and critical work that teachers do is rooted in our memory of what they have done for us.

All the reforms of education rest on this one critical resource: inspiring, committed and caring teachers. This is so from Malaysia to Australia and beyond.

That long drive from work to home was a time when I realised what continues to inspire me in my work is the example of excellent and great teachers that I can draw on for inspiration and guidance.

So I end this piece with a simple observation. When all the sound and fury of educational politics and debate over this or that blueprint or this or that reform settle, we are still left with a fundamental truth.

We must double down our efforts to support and nurture great teachers who are the bedrock of any successful education system.

Teachers can provide us with the great examples which are often our reference points later in life. Such anchors in our current times are all the more important.

By James Campbell | Source: New Straits Times Learning Curve 23 September 2012
Tags: teachers

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