Why Teachers Matter.

This post is dedicated to all the teachers out there. To the teachers that have touched my life, and the lives of many others, from tottering toddlers to angsty adolescents – this is for you.

I simply cannot express how much my teachers have influenced my life – every single one of them. You get all kinds of teachers throughout your schooling career, but all of them, from the good to the bad, from the indifferent to the passionate – every single one of them affects who you are, and who you become.

There are the handful of teachers who shaped your values, and changed the way you live your life. There are others that instill in you a love for a particular subject, and drive you to do you best, to pursue your passions. But above all, every single teacher, has an effect on how you grow as a person.

I don’t think we recognize the tremendous importance of that.

I have a great respect for my teachers – yes, I’ve had my fair share of complaining (He’s a horrible teacher! She’s so boring!’) – but any teacher who has dedicated his/her life to the nurturing of the next generation is worthy of tremendous respect. We’ve all had a bad teacher or two, but I don’t think there can be such a thing as a truly bad teacher. I know – I’ve had teachers that don’t know a thing about their subject, and confuse rather than confirm – but even those teachers teach you something. They force you to learn how to stand on your own two feet, to pursue your passion and find your own fuel to satiate your curiosity.

There will always be bad and good teachers – but the worst teacher is simply one who doesn’t want to be there.

Teachers simply do not get the respect and recognition they deserve. Perhaps the gratification they get from the sheer joy of teaching is enough for them, but society needs to change. Society needs to regard teachers with the same degree of respect as they do lawyers, or doctors, or businessmen. Teachers not only have to be paid more, but they have to be recognized more.

I think, perhaps, that education is the most pressing issue that any society faces. And at the heart (or more aptly, the roots) of any educational system lies the teacher. School is about learning – but not only about acquiring raw knowledge. School is about developing the holistic person, about preparing oneself for the future – it is just as much about the journey as the ending (although the endpoint is just another goalpost signaling a new stretch!). And in developing a person, we have to view students as people, as humans. And at the core of developing a human are the relationships that build a person’s values and guide them in self-discovery. And therein lies the importance of a teacher – there is something unique, something sacred about the relationship between teacher and student – one that commands respect, but with just the right degree of cordiality (and yet formality at times). The sort of influence teachers have on young, impressionable minds is unparalleled (with the only exception being a child’s parents).

Recently I came across an article in the opinion letter of The Straits Times (the day before yesterday, actually) on why the education system needs to change – and the government is changing; all we need now is for society to move along in the same direction. We need parents and educators to recognize that students are more than the sum of their grades, achievements, or even CCAs – they are human. They are people. Our world needs diversity and people who are willing to adapt, change, but yet be true to themselves – and for that we need other humans guiding them.

Just barely a week ago, the MOE announced their plans for implementing two programs by 2017 – the Learning for Life and the Applied Learning program: ‘Every Secondary School To Develop Two Distinctive Programmes For A Holistic Student-Centric Education‘ (sound familiar?). I was delighted – we’re moving in the right direction. It’s very exciting – seeing the change that is taking place in our educational system, and the gradual changing of mindsets towards a better future. I was just re-reading some of my old posts on education, in which I expressed disappointment (and yet growing hope) in the Singapore educational system (Singapore’s Educational Reform – November 2012). I realized that my opinion on education has remained largely the same – but my view on Singapore’s educational system has greatly altered towards a more positive stance, and that’s because our system has changed, and is changing. I was just speaking to my tutor teacher yesterday morning about the educational system – and he expressed intrigue in how the programs would be implemented. It’s true – how does one go about implementing such things? Learning for Life, student-centric, values-driven – it all sound very well, but how? Values can’t be taught from a textbook. It has to be taught by a person.

A teacher.

And so I’m hopeful. We’re all cautiously optimistic, I think. Pondering, with a careful sort of excitement.

Our educational system, and our future, is changing.

But that future – yes that future, lies in the hands of teachers.

But if there is no teaching or learning happening, there is no education going on. […] Actually, teaching is an art form. Everything I’ve ever learnt about teaching has taught me that it’s not enough to know your stuff – though you need to know it – but more than that, you need to engage them, fuel their creativity, drive their passion – that’s the gift of a great teacher. -Ken Robinson, How to Change Education, from the Ground Up

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Wei Han says:

    Well-thought out and so eloquently said..we undervalue teachers’ roles in society…government policies should change to make teaching the profession of choice for our youths, at least on par as the legal and medical profession. Just like teachers, mentors at work are also really important…they can really make or break your career in an organization..so when you start working, do bear that in mind too…and look out for a good mentor :)

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