Good and Bad Teachers

5 Sep

If Education was a start up, the Minimum Viable Product would be a teacher. The teacher is the pivot of learning – and all attempts to replace a teacher with technology have learnt this lesson again – you may create a centre of knowledge, you may make it look like a traditional lecture, or even look like fun and games – but so far it has been impossible to re-create the whole impact of a teacher. Good or Bad.

Every teacher’s day is a time to reflect – on the good, on the bad and where we want to be as a teacher. There is no doubt that there are wonderful teachers who can inspire students to greatness with one simple sentence. I have been very lucky in all my teachers – and I still remember that one sentence uttered by a teacher in class 7 that has formed the guiding principle of my life and choices. Her sentence was. “The only freedom you have is the freedom to do good”. Every career choice, every moment of doubt, every response in anger and disgust – and indeed every ethical dilemma has been resolved by this understanding of my freedom to act. So many of us have discovered a love for a science, or a poem, or a skill through a good teacher who inspired us to look beyond the syllabus to our potential. This is what a good teacher does – a good teacher helps us dream a constructive dream and teaches us the habits to achieve the goal. When a teacher insists on regular work in the classroom, it is a habit that is being built for life. When a teacher asks for marks – it is only an exercise in goal setting. It is to build attitudes of success, of learning from failure, of identifying gaps, and rising to fix them again. A good teacher does not need to push for marks, a good teacher is teaching skills for success. For life.

And yet, so many get trapped in mere form, forgetful of the purpose. Memorise the book, for it is the fastest way to get it ‘right’. Read up our notes – because we do not really need you to learn to use your own brains. All we need is proof that you walked through the syllabus. Do not bother with your opnions and your questions, because you are little, and little people do not matter. Power matters, and a bad teacher is all about power play. There are too many of those around. They are dangerous. Not only do the bad teachers squash anything that was good in a child, they teach fear. They show a child that the only way to survive in life is to be afraid. And the only way to beat fear is to be the biggest bully in the yard. Bad teachers are literally breeding dog-eat-dog attitudes and this begins in the classroom. Even the smartest amongst us live in fear of getting things wrong – we excel not because we know the subject, but because we are afraid of getting anything wrong. So we become specialists in less and less – and the least common denominator for success is the ‘perfect answer’. Little do we know that the perfect answer is a lie that is taught to us when we are imprisioned. In the real world, we take chances. Make choices. Have consequences. And we must face up to them.

But a bad teacher would not have prepared us for life. What is worse, often a bad teacher would not even know that we were looking to them for skills that would help us learn and succeed. They believed they were only in charge of a textbook and its tests. And we thought they were in charge of us. We gave them power over us, our children, our students and our future – but only the good ones could see it. The other teachers remained trapped in their own little ways – and maybe did not even know that they were dangerous failures who bred failure. Whether at school or college, these were the teachers who taught us our limits and our limitations. Because they were trapped in their own limitations.

Can we change a bad teacher? Can we show them that they need not be the cage, the limit? Ask a parent of a child trapped with such a teacher and we may not see hope. Ask a student whose confidence was crushed again and again, and we may never see hope. But ask again, and share again and again – the ways to break these limitations. Do not stop asking, because it is only in these questions that there is hope. Release the bad teachers from their limitations – or we will forever remain caged. Rescue the bad teachers from their own traps to save our future.

For DailyO Sep 5

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