Teachers deserve to be celebrated

Where would you and I be without these intrepid, resilient and magnificently graceful intellectual paragons! If, like me, your age is northward of the quinquagenarian milestone, you must, at some stage, have silently ruminated over one or more of your favourite teachers.

Particularly the few whose benevolence was unparalleled. The one or two who, despite all your puerile shenanigans, never gave up on you, lovingly treated you like their own offspring and played a pivotal part in transforming you from an ignoble infantile liability to a dignified elephantine national asset. The thoughtful guides who selflessly opened your eyes to the potential locked in you and were unstintingly instrumental in drawing it out for your benefit.

Of course, occasionally you would have borne the brunt of firm discipline, something you would not have appreciated because of your subdued level of maturity. As you look back and reflect on the moments when they did not spare the rod, you can’t help but feel indebted to those teachers and probably your face spontaneously lights up with smiles of gratitude. Deep down your heart, you are convinced of this fact; those strict teachers were not the proverbial foxes in charge of a hen house but considerate souls!

How do you feel about teachers? Do you think that ingeniously crafted into the DNA of each nation’s development are hardworking teachers? Are you sold to the common refrain that teaching is a very easy role? The ill-informed narrative that has permeated the social discourse suggesting that the teaching profession is distinctively littered with mavericks working half-day, all undeservedly showered with over-the-top holidays! Under-appreciated, under-recognised, under-rewarded, overwhelmed and emotionally taxed; these are but a few descriptive adjectives that some teachers, who are already battling with intense feelings of anxiety, stress and burnout, use to depict the emotional agony they are forced to endure through their demanding professional journey.

While many teachers have followed their passion and would never trade a chalk for anything else, they feel that they are overworked and their vocation is disrespected by administrators who have fallen far short of being voluble advocates of competitive remuneration; condescending parents with king-sized egos who are keen to chart the path of déclassé behaviour by abnegating their responsibility; and rumbustious short-fused students whose brash energy outweigh their inflated sense of precociousness. Teachers bemoan that their noble profession has lost its sheen, especially at the coalface foundational levels of primary and high school.

Do you ever get the sense that in developing nations, alongside nurses and garbage collectors, teachers are undervalued? That teaching is an exacting but thankless job? Wouldn’t you agree that in the ranking of professions, products of teachers top the list; specialist doctors, scientists, engineers, judges, finance and investment professionals? Talk about the irrationality of exquisite clay vases outstripping their potters in value! This probably accounts for the way in which other fields always have their mouths wide open, ever ready to lunge feed on teachers like blue whales eagerly devouring tens of thousands of unsuspecting crustaceans.

Save for October 5, a day proclaimed as the World Teachers’ day by UNESCO some 27 odd years ago, by and large, teachers are forgotten for many of the remaining 364 days of the year. This subject is close to my heart because I have seen my parents doing this job with a heightened sense of diligence and dedication. They bequeathed this ineradicable heritage to my brother, who, for the last three decades, has relentlessly executed this job with a sense of pride and fulfilment. Perhaps the sentiment shared by Ilango Sivaraman, an education management consultant, resonates with my loved ones; “In Hinduism, after father and mother, teacher comes third in the hierarchy of earthly divinity.”

In educating children, teachers lay a sturdy foundation for global prosperity simply because the future of each country lies in the hands of the children, and in this competitive era, knowledge-based economies are braced to outperform others. Quintessential teachers caution that teaching is not a profession to be embraced by frustrated and desperate slobs reeling from lack of appealing options.

There is no one-size-fits all formula for teaching. Each class is different. The needs of individual students are diverse. The teaching environment is constantly evolving owing to changes in the ecosystem driven by the dynamic web-based landscape coupled with the need to provide education, which speaks to growth inducing sector-specific demands. Positivity, perseverance, patience and adaptability are core attributes of great teachers. Creative and proactive outside-the-box teachers engage students in a stimulating interactive manner. Integral to the success of teachers is the extent to which they do not just show empathy but are perceived to be naturally empathic by their students.

Frequently placed on teachers is the burden of using their own resources and they often liberally do so without expectation or demand for a reward. Empathetic teachers have been known to unreluctantly dig deep into their pockets to procure stuff required by their less privileged students, be it books, pens, shoes and even warm garments during the grueling winter season. Some have gone out of their way to ‘adopt’ a student, not as a vain self-promotion stunt, but out of a benignant sense of love and compassion.

In my student days at Kgari Sechele Secondary School, I was a member of the debating club. The one thing I deeply appreciated is the self-sacrificing spirit shown by teachers in being supportive of students during time-consuming extra-curricular activities. Without ever grumbling, teachers were willing to accompany the debating team in traveling hundreds of kilometres on weekends. Forced to spend nights away from their comfortable beds and families. A life of self-denial indeed!

Great teachers are observant and would from time to time agonise over the welfare of their students. They have the innate ability to spot the most subtle signs of abuse in their students, and when they do, like sensitive therapists, without falling into the trap of being judgemental, they would engage the children in privacy, offer the first line of support and assurance before referring such students for professional counseling. These teachers do not need someone to prompt them to do so. This is an intuitive action triggered by a kindhearted mind and an instinctive willingness to go beyond the call of duty. These teachers stress over students who fail tests and are always happy to graciously steal personal and family time to offer remedial lessons to struggling students. And yes, normally, they are not compensated for this! What drives them to sacrifice so much? Because there isn’t a single person who can thrive in the teaching profession if they are prone to playing in the lowly jobsworths’ league!

Some teachers have partners and children. When they arrive home after a busy day at work, they need to take care of chores at home, give love to family members before committing time to assessing work presented by their students. Thereafter, they would apply their minds to preparing for the following day’s lessons, taking time to reflect deeply on fitting illustrations to use in highlighting key lessons in an easily comprehensible manner. Spurred on by unconditional love, avuncular warmth, deep-seated compassion and genuine empathy, they subscribe to the notion that their students should achieve much more than them and seeing their students progressing in a diversity of fields does not fill their hearts with the minutest grain of envy. For them, it is an opportunity to celebrate their success. If you have contacts of the exceptional men and women who have unselfishly devoted time to teaching you and your children, why not show appreciation to one or two of them? You can start off by writing a heartfelt note oozing with gratitude, complimenting them on what you value most about them. You do not need to wait for two and half weeks from now, October 5 2021 to be precise, to flood the social media space with a single day’s vainglorious ‘me too statements of appreciation,’ often peddled by a bunch of attention seeking poseurs.

We need not think long and hard about saluting the efforts of teachers. Unprompted, our children often relate anecdotes which reflect how teachers absorb themselves in teaching and motivating them.

What does it take to steer and bring into sharper focus the teacher-appreciation agenda? Can you look a teacher in the eye, and with an unquestionable sense of conviction unpretentiously say, I sincerely appreciate what you do? Let’s thank them for the seamless way in which they transitioned from in-person teaching to the digital platform during the COVID-19 plague. May you and I take the lead in spurring the national momentum of appreciation for these bighearted individuals! This might be the refreshing spark that would jolt the often-fatigued teachers to tenaciously keep their noses to the grindstone.

Editor's Comment
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