Of Teachers………

 

A teacher is someone who teaches. In the local idiom a teacher is called an ‘Ustad’. Over the years somehow the word has transgressed its meaning to mean a driver (especially that of a bus or truck), an unassuming but deceptive person, a con man or even a gang leader. Why a prestigious vocation like teaching has been equated with the above, rather shady occupations, eludes me. I am reminded of an anecdote, reportedly taken from real life, in which a Federal Minister, who had risen to this enviable status, not because of the virtue of his qualifications and inherent qualities but more probably of his antecedents and family ties, after disembarking from his helicopter and having had his fill of a feast thrown in his honour at a location in a somewhat remote Northern area, nonchalantly asked one of his aides in the local idiom, ‘Ustadan aan roti khilai ai’ or ‘have you fed the ‘Ustad’’. He was referring to the pilot who was, of course, a very high ranking official of the Pakistan Air Force.

Commercialization has taken its toll on all facets of modern life and teaching and learning are no exception. Sadly enough, teaching is not considered a specialized vocation in our part of the world. In my 25 years of teaching career I have come across countless potential doctors, engineers, pilots and military men. Pupils who, attempting that old chestnut ‘My aim in life ’, describe with great gusto what they want to be when they grow up. I even had a 7th grader from Mardan named ‘General Irshad ’ whose prescient father lived for the day when his son would have not one but two military titles before his name; but not one pupil has ever declared that he wants to become a teacher when he grows up. One factor for this state of affairs is the rather shabby status our society affords to teachers and another, may be more pertinent factor, is that we are seldom inspired by the teachers we come across, to aspire to follow in their footsteps. No doubt things are different in English medium schools in big cities where enlightened and relatively well paid teachers are available. Sadly most teachers in government schools, especially in remote areas, still treat schools as their estates and pupils as their slaves. Stories of pupils tending to the teacher’s live stock, doing his house hold chores and getting beaten up at the slightest provocation abound.

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Most of the teachers are teachers not by design but by duress or certain limitations. Most of them would jump at the chance if offered a change of career. For the young, teaching is a stepping stone to better opportunities and if one does not come along they grow old, feeling trapped and hoodwinked, at the unfair way life has treated them.A human personality is a strange amalgam of influences; the strongest, in my opinion, being the education one has received. Education and teachers are still synonymous in our country. Our traditional values and Islamic teachings still hold a teacher in the highest esteem. Though our average teacher has done his best to forfeit his status, the majority of our pupils still regard a teacher as the supreme authority on all academic matters.Recently an item in the national press caused an icy chill to go up my spine. At a government school in a rural area, two teachers accused a 12 year old of stealing a muffler or scarf. The pupil denied the charge and the two ‘teachers’, convinced that the boy was lying, beat him up mercilessly for three days in a bid to get him to confess to a ‘crime’ he had not committed.

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When this failed they proposed to the boy that they will throw a lit match stick at him; if he was guilty he would catch fire, if not no harm would come to him. The wretched boy, secure in the knowledge that he was innocent, stood unflinchingly as the two barbarians set fire to him. By the time he was rescued he had sustained third degree burns on the major part of his body, from the neck down. After fighting for his life for 63 days in a hospital in Pindi, he, at last, died the other day. No mention was made of the two teachers who had caused his death.

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No wonder many, who are taught by such teachers, do not prefer to adopt teaching as a vocation.Teaching is an extremely demanding and challenging calling. It has far reaching implications and it is important for the teacher to realize that he affects eternity and he cannot tell where his or her influence ends.His conduct, behaviour, commitment and attitude toward his profession, work and discipline are of the utmost importance. The quality of the interaction between the teachers, the taught and the environment determines the quality of education.

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Recently the complaint that pupils are no longer as receptive and respectful toward teachers as they used be, keeps cropping up. I firmly believe that there is no substitute for honest, relentless sincerity. It is infectious and contagious and is always palpable and recognizable. In my 25 years of teaching I have always found my pupils to be caring and thoughtful, provided they felt the same way about me. A school should be an open society and a place of natural behaviour and honest truth, both between the teacher and the taught. Working together they foster the qualities of compassion, concern and understanding to serve the needs of others. The resultant mutual trust of pupil for teacher and teacher for pupil is perhaps the really decisive factor which gives a good school its special quality.

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The lofty ideal that teaching is a mission no longer holds water in the fast changing world of today. The fault is not that of the teacher only, many factors contribute to it. His economic station in life, a plethora of diversions for the taught and the weakening links between parents and teachers all are to be blamed for this state of affairs. The job of the teacher continues to become more arduous as he has to face challenges from within and without to measure up to his noble profession.

Whatever the circumstances, a committed teacher is not status conscious. The respect he earns amply compensates for all shortcomings.There is no definitive ‘method’ in teaching but there are certain characteristics, which are common to all good lessons. Every lesson should have an aim and it should be concept oriented. The exploratory spirit, initiation of thought process, acquisition of knowledge through personal experience and contact with reality, cognitive arrangement and planning of the materials, clarity of expression and the effective use of audio-visual aids are the hall marks of all good lessons. A good teacher ensures that all pupils are actively involved in whatever activity is in progress.

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He remembers that we forget 80% of all that we hear and so takes guidance from the Chinese proverb:‘ Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll never forget.’There’s nothing worse than a teacher who stands before a class and speaks monotonously for the length of a period. If a lesson consists entirely of a teacher droning on and on about something as drab as algebraic equations, not many red bloodied 5th graders can be expected to listen attentively for the duration of the whole period. Some teachers, very wrongly, believe that the louder they are the easier it is to drill the lesson into the pupils’ brains. It is important to vary the voice according to type of lesson or activity and to avoid shouting. The ratio of ‘teacher talking time’ and the ‘pupil talking time’ has to be balanced and each lesson planned with a variety of activities to sustain interest.A teacher is certain to be successful if he takes pains to gain competence and insight into a good knowledge of his subject and awareness of the intellectual capacity of his charges.

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Effective teachers constantly monitor each pupil and adapt and individualize academic instruction. They help prepare their pupils to learn when they introduce, conduct and conclude each academic lesson. These principles of effective instruction help a child to stay focused on his assigned tasks as he transitions from one lesson to another throughout the day. It is important that the teacher very clearly expresses his or her expectations regarding work and behaviour to all pupils. Younger pupils are more comfortable, and hence more productive, if they have well defined parameters and rules of conduct, preferably formulated in consultation with them.If we delve deep into our past and try to recall teachers who inspired and influenced us, we will arrive at one indisputable truth. One characteristic common to all such teachers was their love, concern and fairness.

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A good teacher must have sympathy for his wards and he must ensure fair dealing and encourage creative and original thinking instead of committing facts to memory. Each pupil is an individual and so it is important that his individuality is retained. A good teacher should lay stress on promoting and developing reading habits and endeavour to maintain interest and discipline in the classroom. Clarity of speech, use of teaching resources and developing ones own teaching aids will further help. No relationship can prosper and prove to be mutually fulfilling and beneficial if it is not based on mutual respect and trust and the same is true for the relationship between a teacher and pupil. A good teacher listens, advises, encourages and when the need arises admonishes. He is a role model for his pupils and the epitome of what is best in the older generation to them.The explosive progress and development of science and technology have extended the frontiers of knowledge beyond imagination. The teacher has to keep himself up to date not only about the subject he teaches but also has to be extremely receptive and open to changes in the world around him. The changing times have made his role even more demanding and important because parents, guardians and society have, at large, have been constrained to step aside, largely because of their preoccupations and changing attitudes. We as teachers have to compensate for that.

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The heavy responsibility of educating and bringing up a child properly can only be adequately met if the parent and teacher look and move in the same direction.The school years are the most formative and impressionable of ones life and all that a teacher does or utters has to be well deliberated before execution. Modern educational approach emphasizes on learning through understanding and appreciation rather than rote learning. Mastery in a subject is now measured in the terms of an individual’s ability to apply it gainfully. A pupil resorts to learning things by heart only when he fails to understand them. Thus a pupil’s own work is more important than the work done for him. Personal experience is more important than the spoken word. The nature and quality of individual study and experience are more vital than formal instruction. A pupil’s personal work and development of intellectual resources is of paramount importance. The pupil should work with, and not for his teacher; both aiming to make the very best of the pupil’s potentialities.

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A teacher must strive to formulate lessons which are well thought out and are presented with clarity. All lessons should be planned as problem solving situations so as to appeal to the inherent human desire to tackle challenges; but at the same time the pupils’ ability should be kept in view. Somehow the pupil’s ego should be involved in our approach. If a teacher’s ego also gets involved in the quality of work produced by the pupil nothing would be more valuable.If a pupil is subjected to humiliation, undue rigidity, indifferent attitude on part of the teacher and the teacher only lends help grudgingly, the pupils’ interest in the subject will definitely wane. Any unkind remark, made without taking into account the sensitiveness of a young mind often has far reaching psychological repercussions. Over strictness can be as damaging as undue leniency and there should hardly be an occasion to admonish a pupil publicly.

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I remember, a long time ago, when I was in grade 6 my Arithmetic teacher, usually a mild tempered and benign lady, for some reason I can’t recall, took one look at my work and threw my homework copy in my face. This rather thoughtless act put me off Mathematics for the rest of my life and the subject has never appealed to me since. A teacher has to ensure that whatever problems he is facing in his personal life are cast aside when he enters the school premises each morning. The innocent children who await him and look up to him are not at fault if, in his opinion, life is not being kind to him.Unless an equation of mutual respect is established no positive result can be expected. One is constantly amazed by the resourcefulness and power of adaptability of the human mind and faculties. People can achieve wonders with right and timely advice, guidance, motivation and inspiration and teachers can often be the prime source of it.

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The development to the full of all the potentialities of character and intellect of each pupil should be the object of education and who else can prove to be instrumental in the achievement of this objective but the teacher. Unfortunately an average teacher in our country is so bowed down under economic pressures that lofty ideals and sublime notions do not hold water for him. The resentment he feels at the status our society has afforded him inevitably manifests itself in the treatment of his pupils. So much talent and potential can go down the drain because of insensitivity and lack of concern on part of a school teacher.Certainly if a child continually encounters criticism and disrespect the same things will be fostered in him. There is indeed a dire need to introduce momentous reforms in the selection, induction, training, compensation and promotion of teachers if we are desirous of imparting quality education to our youth and making progress in the true sense of the word.

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