kheru2006 (kheru2006) wrote,

The quintessential teacher

THIS is my farewell article for this column and I’d like to dedicate it to young teachers.

I started writing for The Star in 1996 and had no clue then about the professional and spiritual dividends of writing. I wrote simply because I loved to write!

Being a teacher, I had a ringside seat to witness firsthand the “blood, sweat, toil and tears” of my colleagues and students as they wrestled with their numerous challenges. Thus, I did not lack for stories to tell.

But as time passed and the enormity of my responsibility dawned on me, I wrote more to influence the lives of teachers positively than to fulfil the passion I had for writing.

Stephen King was once asked, “What makes a good writer?” He replied simply: “Read a lot. Write a lot.” I did both and learnt a lot.

Meanwhile, as far as teaching was concerned, I grew the most in the year I reported to my first school.

It was 1986 and for the fact that I was still “green”, I was “hoodwinked” into becoming the head of the Science panel.

The quintessential teacher

THIS is my farewell article for this column and I’d like to dedicate it to young teachers.

When self-doubt brought upon by the gravity of the assignation kicked in, I sought counsel from a senior English Language teacher.

She reassured me: “Don’t worry my dear, you’ll soon get the hang of it. And Mr T will help you out.”

She was right. Mr T was the man who had “passed the buck” to me.

While this senior gentleman had been only too glad to relinquish his position, he took the responsibility of showing me the ropes seriously.

I can still remember him. With his glasses perched on his nose and a lit cigarette in his hands, he handed out crisp and sound advice. How could I not learn from him?

Fortuitously for me, I was a gregarious creature who loved social interaction.

I mingled easily with the older teachers and because they knew a whole lot more than I did, my development soared.

Nostalgia assails me when I think back to the days of the congeniality we shared as teachers.

Frankly, even in the way they laughed off their worries, they taught me a lot.

Why teach?

Today, I can’t help but notice how lackadaisical some teachers are.

Teaching is one of the most challenging professions around but one shouldn’t forget how noble a vocation it is.

For me, teaching was a dream job because it assured me of both a steady income and sufficient time to be with my family.

If I took the ups and downs of my profession in my stride, it was because I was brought up by my parents to be strong and to persevere. In one teaching stint in Sabah, I had to drive for an hour along a pothole-riddled laterite road before I arrived at the school gates.

Despite being alone and not knowing what setbacks awaited me on the route, I still did it as there were students waiting for my lessons.

To take my mind off the journey, I listened to my favourite music and revelled in the majestic beauty of Borneo.

Even when I was alone for four months in 1989 when my husband was posted back to the Peninsular, I stayed resilient and motivated.

The point here is: you have to count your blessings. As for the benefits of teaching, they are gratifyingly worthy of sacrifice.

I had a student once who thanked me for making him feel that he could actually learn something. His remark stayed with me for days.

On another day, a funny story I told made a 13-year-old boy laugh so hard, he fell off his chair! And everyone else laughed all the more!

In a rural school, a mother cried because her son had finally passed a test.

All these and more rejuvenate the spirit and make you proud to be a respected teacher.

Don’t allow the grind of work to darken your heart, but reflect, see the bigger picture and stride forward.

Meanwhile, listen actively to parents who share their dreams, hopes and aspirations with you. It’ll make you see your job differently.

In my case, even joining my husband’s circle of men friends and hearing their private sector woes never failed to strengthen my resolve to be the best I could be at school.

Yes, if you avail yourself of every avenue and opportunity to learn, how can you not progress?

Leading others

In its Latin origins, the word “education” springs from the root word educere which means to “draw out”.

Young teachers often misinterpret the true significance of their role.

Unsure of themselves, they dole out facts and fear questions rather than stimulate thinking or prompt reasoned thought.

Truth is, before you can “lead forth” the best in others, you have to first cultivate and “bring out” the best in yourself.

All these verbs — “draw”, “bring” and “lead” — indicate strongly that every person is an achiever in his own right. You have to hone these latent faculties.

To grow confident, secure and capable, it’s a good idea to stop saying “impossible”; instead, choose to say: “I am possible.”

I emphasise the word “choose” because it is said that if you can’t change your mind, you can’t change anything.

While the power of conscious choice is a matter of will, the power of informed choice is a matter of education.

John Milton Gregory, the author of The Seven Laws of Teaching, summarised: “If you stop learning today, you stop teaching tomorrow.” How about putting this reminder on your Facebook wall?

Ever wondered how to handle an irate parent? Can’t answer a difficult question posed by a student?

Don’t know how to deal with a “toxic” colleague? Just “google” the topic!

Meanwhile, do you know what true teaching is? It causes change.

Charismatic teachers with sound core values are so powerful that they affect lives for years to come.

In the words of Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets: “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”

Meanwhile, observe effective teachers. Not only do they work hard to prepare interesting, yet challenging activities but they also commend performance and praise effort.

And yes, it’s a wise decision not to say too much in front of colleagues who are negative, cold and calculating.

Please reserve your attention for those who are positive, warm and giving.

I am confident that you will not regret turning to any caring cikgu who shares knowledge, experience and wisdom with warmth and charity.

In the analects of Confucius, it is written: “The exemplary person is like the breeze, and the common person is like the grass; as the breeze blows, the grass is sure to bend.”

Trust me, you may be the “grass” now, but if you are willing to “bend”, you pave the way for the “breeze” in you!

In my final sign-off, I’d like to urge the Education Ministry to actively address the legitimate woes expressed by teachers through social media avenues and their teacher unions. I would also like to thank The Star and all the wonderful editors I have worked with in the past 18 years. My warmest regards reach out to all my regular readers, both here and abroad.

NITHYA SIDHHU The STAR Online Home News Education 15/12/2013
Tags: teachers

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