Teachers Learn to be Leaders Too

9 Mar

Sometimes teachers have to face the strangest situations. 


“My student will not stop crying and won’t tell me why’ is probably the most common. Every teacher has had these days when one child completely loses emotional control and it is up to the teacher to keep the class going, make sure that the contagion does not spread and of course needs to console the child. 


“I’m having an asthamatic attack and forgot to bring my nebuliser” 


“I want to go to the toilet but its too late now” (yes, I paraphrased this one)


Of course the very common,


“He’s hitting me” 


and the terrifying,





Yes, teachers deal with all of this and more. Often alone. Standing in front of that class the teacher is the tallest leader ever. A role model. A pillar of strength. 


However much the situation daunts them, it is theirs to resolve. 


Some are lucky, they work in large and well equipped schools and can transfer some of these problems. The school clinic will be able to take care of the blood and the nebuliser, there may be an ayah or cleaner (in rich Indian schools there is one) to help with the spillage and the toilet issues. 


Other teachers are even luckier.. they have been trained in dealing with most situations. Some may even have been trained in spotting conditions such as dyslexia or  ADD/ADHD and will therefore have been told of the ideal response in the class room.


Most teachers are not so lucky. They teach in difficult circumstances, in small schools and in remote areas. They may or may not be prepared to deal with emergencies, they may not even have another teacher in the school to support them in a crisis. These teachers are daily heroes. 


And when a newly qualified teacher steps into the job on the first day, it is stepping into the shoes of a hero. Personal heroism is what is required of the job, though, thankfully only occasionally. Thing is, you have no idea when that moment will come. 


And that moment is probably the greatest learning a new teacher will receive. The moment when they know that they must step up and deliver. There is no other adult in the room-it is them! For many new teachers, this is their first lesson in leadership. 


Learning in the classroom is never just one way. The teacher too is learning how to deal with their circumstances. Some teachers use this as an opportunity for personal growth. Others as a chance to enhance or validate their sense of power. For others it is merely a job. For those who will, there may be no better way to self discovery than to teach young minds. 


The lessons of leadership are learnt by doing. Leaders are rarely created by simply reading a book. You have to put yourself out there and build the loyal followership, shape them to your vision and take them along with you on a journey – a teacher does all that everyday. 


The leader is in a position of power, but respect and followership do not come merely from the position, but from the knowledge and mentorship that the leader is able to demonstrate. Sometimes a teacher’s power comes from the chair that they occupy. Sometimes, they are simply the largest person in the room. Sometimes, they are looked up to because of the wonder they bring, the stories they tell. Often children really have no idea of the transformation their teachers are bringing, and may even hate the grind they are being put through.. but they do know who cares for them and invests in them. In teaching, more than anywhere else, much of it is leadership by care. 


And what does the teacher get for all this lofty leadership? Do they get promotions for being better leaders? Do they get bonuses for standing up for their little people? Not always, we know. Do they get respect? A place at the centre of the community? Economic security? Satisfaction for a job well done? Some do, most don’t. 


What teachers do get is a great sense of self, a maturity. Confidence that comes with few other professions. Teaching is about building and communicating self belief. The teacher knows that they have no choice but to have a ‘can-do’ attitude. To know that one can step up when the need arises is a gift earned by a teacher. Whatever the circumstance, with or without incentives, a teacher must make it happen. 


To keep leading, to build a followership year after year, not sure of the incentives or rewards, and to still step up and be counted – I don’t know what you call it but it is the stuff that makes heroes.



This was published in the Times of India blogs on February 26, 2013 and is linked here and http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/teachers-learn-to-be-leaders-too


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