Portrait of the perfect teacher

Portrait of the perfect teacher

What is the most enduring memory you have of your teacher? Was she an empathetic angel or unyielding tyrant? With Teacher’s Day round the corner, Sonali Bhatia, identifies some of the qualities that make a good teacher.

Think back for a minute on the teacher who you remember most fondly, from your school days. Your Science teacher, who brought the subject to life? The music teacher who trained you for an inter-school contest and wouldn’t let you feel nervous about facing a big audience? The art teacher who didn’t let the class laugh at you after you messed up a drawing ...?

What was it that made these teachers endearing or memorable? Let’s try to identify and put in words some of those intangible qualities that they possessed.

*Empathy: ‘This teacher understands me.’ Empathy means getting out of your own shoes and into someone else’s. It means really getting under the students’ skin — understanding what each girl or boy in your class is feeling.

That can be difficult, while trying to complete the portion in time for the examinations – but, if you are to rise above being a ‘good’ teacher to becoming a ‘great’ teacher, you need to acquire this quality. To me, it is the single most important quality in anyone who works with children. (And — in the long run, it may actually help you complete the portion in time, too — a lot of other problems get solved with a bit of empathy!)

*Justice: ‘This teacher is fair.’ Children are quick to spot partiality and injustice, and equally quick to appreciate reasonableness. I’ve heard male students say — “Miss X is the only teacher who scolds the girls as much as she scolds the boys!” The teacher concerned was happy to take that as a compliment, though it doesn’t sound like one! It is unfair to assume that a particular student is ‘good’ or ‘naughty’ just because of gender, or for any other reason. I believe that each situation should be looked at and dealt with individually, without the baggage of previous assumptions. Too often, teachers say, “This child always ...”  — filling in the blank with a theory about the child, not taking facts into account. It’s worth taking the time to delve a bit into a given situation, and not falling back on labels assigned to certain students.

*Passion for the subject: ‘If this teacher can love the subject so much, so can I!’ Passion is something that goes beyond knowledge or educational degrees. It is a deep love for the subject, a white-hot excitement that, in turn, kindles the spark in your students. I love to read, so when I talk about books, this enthusiasm shows in my face, is heard in my voice. I don’t have to put it on, it just happens naturally. From the responses I’ve had from parents, teachers and students, I know that my keenness is contagious. If you’re too bogged down with the day to day nitty-gritties of teaching, step back for a moment and remember why you decided to teach this subject in the first place. Bring the passion back into your profession.

*Preparation: ‘This teacher is organised.’ Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. No matter how many times you have taught the chapter before, no matter how well you know the subject, no matter which class you are teaching. Prepare for each lesson thoroughly. It increases your confidence and makes you more efficient — and it shows students that you care enough about them to work hard for them.

*Humility: ‘This teacher admits to making a mistake.’ Teachers are always playing a role — that of the one in charge, of the one who knows everything, of the one who has all the answers. In fact, teachers are human. Teachers cannot possibly know everything there is to be known about any topic whatsoever! They cannot possibly have an immediate answer to every question asked! It helps to admit to being human — admit it to yourself and to your students. By this, I don’t mean losing control. It is possible to stay in control while admitting to an error, or to a gap in knowledge. When done genuinely and naturally, this does not reduce the respect for the teacher, it actually enhances it.

*Being a student yourself: ‘This teacher is always learning.’ The day you stop learning is the day you stop being a good teacher. Learn something new every day — from your family, friends, colleagues, and from those who can teach you the most — your students. When you get the opportunity, go for formal training programmes or seminars, or take up a correspondence course in anything that catches your fancy. This will help you be a creative, innovative teacher — and it will help you to empathise with your students, since you are one yourself!

*Practise what you preach: ‘This teacher models the expected behaviour.’ Clichéd, but true. Students imitate what you do. If you’d like them to be polite to you, you need to be polite to them. If you’d like them to keep their promises to you, you need to keep your promises to them. They’ll do as you do.

Above all — remember to enjoy yourself in class — teaching is fun! Your chosen subject is your passion, and children are the best people in the world to be with!

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