ON reading the letter "Private institutions can help" (NST, Dec 29) by Bismillah Kader, I was reminded of the first time I applied for a position as an English language teacher.
The manager of the language centre I was applying to quickly glanced through my curriculum vitae and other other documents I had handed him and asked me: "Can you teach?"
I was quite shocked at the question. I mean, what a question! Of course, I could teach, I had got my qualifications, done my training, and although I lacked work experience, how is a new teacher ever going to get experience unless he or she gets to teach?
So, I answered him firmly: "Yes". I got the job, but it only lasted three months -- not much longer than most of the teachers that worked there. After a couple of years, the centre closed down. I had many more teaching appointments after that, which helped me understand the meaning of the question: "Can you teach?"
A teacher is not a a marketer, a counsellor, an administrator, a disciplinarian, a test designer, a story-teller, a public relations manager, and much less a debt collector.
A teacher is simply an academic with enough knowledge to be able to explain the contents of books, slides, handouts and other teaching material to students so that they understand it and, therefore, acquire knowledge, which is the purpose of learning. A teacher must also ensure that all students in the class pass tests to proceed to the next level.
A truly competent teacher does not admit failure and so, will style his or her teaching methods to suit all students, to make all of them want to learn, and when they have learned, they must pass. Any employer who does not understand the real role of the teacher will never find the right teacher to teach at his school or college.
Yes, some students may like a teacher so much that they think that he or she is their father, mother, relative, friend and such. Some teachers will be flattered by the attention of their students, so much so that they will forget what it is to be a teacher.
In conclusion, yes, graduate teachers are preferable to those without a degree, but the performance of any teacher ultimately depends upon the management of the school or college where he or she is employed.
The employer who asks: "Can you teach?" is only looking for someone to do the job. And because he himself does not know how to find the best in his people, how to motivate them and how to make them better, the teachers themselves will not be able to pass on their knowledge to their students, no matter how many degrees they have listed on their resume.
Marisa Demori, Kuala Lumpur New Straits Times Letters to the Editors 31 December 2012