First off, let me start by saying that I love education. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. I love knowledge. I love the idea of learning and I think the opportunity of going into a classroom or lecture theatre and have someone inform you of a part of life that you never even knew existed is just magnificent.
I’ve been through the education system. I’ve attended Primary School, gone through Secondary School, passed the Leaving Cert (a dreaded set of exams that come at the end of six years in Secondary School in Ireland), attended college, subsequently graduated from college and am now studying for an MA. And after all that I have a couple of questions, a couple of worries, and a couple of complaints…about teachers.
In Ireland we attend Primary School between the ages of roughly 5 and 12. My thoughts on it? Brilliant. I went to a great Primary School. Some of the teachers were brilliant, but it was the principal that really stood out. He was incredibly enthusiastic. He gave us opportunities and would do extra-curricular activities with the students such as chess, basketball and quizzes just to name a few. The process was inclusive, fun and gave pupils the chance to do things they wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
So Primary School gets an A+, but it doesn’t stay like that. In Primary School you’re learning the basics, developing and seeing what you can be. In college you have an idea of a career path and narrow your choices down to one or two subjects and if you do an MA like I’m doing now, you specialize in one particular aspect of those subject. Generally, any tutelage you get will be great so there are no problems there. You feel the lecturers’ and the tutors’ passion. You sense their enjoyment in what they’re teaching and that helps you to enjoy it as a result. Primary school and college are great. It’s the middle part that bothers me.
In Secondary School, a teacher’s job is to provide information, right? Give their students notes, right? Make sure they achieve good grades, right? Right. But it shouldn’t be. Or at least that’s not all it should be. A teacher should be able to motivate, inspire and make you believe.
I’ve had some good teachers, I’ve had some bad ones and I’ve had some downright terrible ones who even to this day I question how they managed to make it as teachers. They don’t know what they’re teaching, they don’t know how to teach it and really they couldn’t give the slightest care about you as a person.
Two of the best teachers I ever had weren’t great because they got the best results or had the best notes, they were the best because they could relate to the students, they cared and most of all, they inspired.
One of these was a substitute teacher. He subbed in for someone on maternity leave to teach History and Religion. Now religion at the best of times is a dull affair because usually all it entailed was writing our names down on a piece of paper and being thankful for all the things we have. So this substitute teacher came in with a list of instructions and half way through the first class almost everyone was asleep, including him.
He saw that and stopped and asked us what we wanted to do. Yes, he actually gave us a choice because he wanted to make the class inclusive. Good move. Our options were either he would continue with the class text OR he would research a different religion every week and share what he found out with us. No prizes for guessing which one we chose. Not only did we feel we had a say in our own education, not only were we studying something we wanted to, we were doing something fun that would introduce us to a wide variety of cultures.
Another story about the same teacher. For history we were learning about the Incas and Machu Picchu. This is actually a very interesting topic but he took it one step further. He had been to Machu Picchu, brought in a slideshow of photos that he himself had taken and showed them to us via the projector. Then he spoke about his experiences. He kept everyone’s attention. He made everyone interested. It inspired people to learn, broaden their horizons and experience new things.
Contrast this with another History teacher I had and there’s no comparison. This guy sat at the front of the class, didn’t care about getting to know any of the students and would just get us to read from the book. End of. He didn’t know half the information he was teaching and he certainly wasn’t bothered if we were finding it interesting.
But as for the unequivocal best teacher I have ever had and I’m almost hesitant to say this because I know if he ever does read this praise, he’ll be walking into class the next morning with a big smug look on his face (I’m joking…sort of).
Anyway, an English teacher. And what he did that no other teacher was able to do was not come down to the level of the students, but raise us up to the level of the teacher.
He had recently returned from Africa where he had undertaken charity work. He told us wonderful stories about his time there, encouraged us to travel when we got older and it was easy to sense his enthusiasm and love for the country he had just left.
He was the first teacher in Secondary School who showed more care about how we developed and what we did as people that about results. He made us believe that we could be whatever we wanted to in life.
About two years beforehand, at the very start of the global financial collapse, another teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I went along with the usual teenage joke and said, “a millionaire”. The response? “Oh, the days of millionaires are over.”
What a depressing thing to say.
The teacher doesn’t know that. In fact, it’s blatantly untrue. Sure she might have been right if she had said, “that’s going to be a lot harder now”. That’s fine. But to say there will be no more millionaires? Preposterous.
This brings me to an important point. Teachers are what they are and do what they do. But they aren’t the things they teach. The teacher who teaches To Kill a Mockingbird hasn’t written a bestseller, the business teacher you have (I have no complaints with my business teachers by the way, they were both excellent), has never run a business. A science teacher isn’t Stephen Hawking and your Geography teacher isn’t some world-renowned geologist.
So it’s important that teachers know this. Know your limitations. Know where you fit in. You are the go-between. You are the link between knowledge and success. But don’t think that’s me trying to belittle you. I think you’re jobs are incredible. You have an opportunity to nurture interest and inspire the next generation. What disappoints me is that not enough of you do this. A good teacher is worth their weight in gold. A bad teacher, well, they’re in the wrong job.
I have one more story and this one really annoys me. Towards the end of my time in school, a teacher said to two or three of us to make a wise career move and get into the civil service because we would be “looked after” no matter what. I actually found the teacher to be ok too, but if that’s your attitude as a teacher, if that’s why you’re in the job, then that’s pretty disgraceful. Not only is it self-serving, it also shows a huge amount of disinterest towards the students.
Teaching is so important. It fills a huge role. If you teach you are taking someone’s life and their future and all their dreams and aspirations and molding it. Some teachers decide to help in the process, others just leave a lump of clay behind. It’s a shame too because some teachers aren’t just bad, they’re terrible, disinterested and lacking any sort of likeability factor.
If you’re a teacher and you find this offensive let me ask you one simple question. Why? Is it because it’s the truth? I can guarantee that any teacher who does their best to inspire their students and actually cares about their futures will agree with what I’m saying. And again, if you don’t agree then maybe have a look in the mirror. It could be time to up your game.
This isn’t an attack on all teachers, it’s an appeal that many improve. Education is hugely important but so are belief and the will to work. A good teacher can give you that. They can make you dream of future success, that there is a way to make it to the top no matter what your background or how many obstacles stand in your way.
To those teachers who go into school every day thinking of how best to tailor their classes to their students. To those teachers who do things differently in an attempt to make their classes stand out and feel fresh. To those teachers who love teaching for what it is. For those who have a passion in helping the next generation. For those who take pride in creating the best people first and the best results second, I can only say well done and that when your students do grow up they will remember you and be thankful for the experience and inspiration you gave them.
And as for those of you who are now annoyed with what I’ve said. Who feel I’m being unfair and that what I’m suggesting is hard work, I’ve got one word for you.
Thank you for reading. I hope what I’m saying makes sense to people and you enjoyed the post. If you’d like to follow me on Facebook you can do so by clicking here. I’m also on Twitter which you can access here.
All the best,