Teachers and how much they really matter to us

The entire nation celebrated Teachers’ Day on 2nd May two weeks ago. I take this opportunity to pay my tribute and offer my humble prayers to all the teachers across the nation. What I am today is the clear fruition of the sheer sacrifice and hard work my teachers had invested in me.

All over the world, teachers are considered as one of the most important factors in shaping the future citizens of the country. There are no Kings, no ministers, no scientists, no doctors, no engineers and no teachers without a teacher. Teachers are the architect in the nation-building process and also form one of the main pillars of a forward-looking nation. So teachers play an invaluable role in shaping the future of the world. Teachers lay the cornerstone of all other professions in this world. Indeed teaching is a ‘noble profession.’

However, of late in Bhutan, due to rapid socio-economic development and political transformation, the teaching profession is often viewed upon as the last refuge. It has become a profession which only a few graduates join by choice.

A teacher is a manager, observer, diagnostician, decision maker, presenter, actor, designer; facilitator, accommodator, writer, director, evaluator, parent, etc. Indeed, teachers are required to be all-round-versatile and energetic. These are the non-negotiable roles of teachers. Thus, teachers ought to always keep in mind the maxim: “nothing is not my area.” Which means teaching is beyond the profession per se and means a profession for life.

Nobody is born to assume the role of a teacher prior to any kind of trainings or exposure to teaching methodologies. The myth that all the teachers are born to be teachers with the capability to shoulder the said complex roles of the teaching profession is wrong. The time has changed, and so has the mindset of the general public. There is a paradigm shift in thinking that the teachers are made, and not born.

Everybody understands teaching can be a daunting, off-putting and discouraging task. Paradoxically, society as a whole is playing a blame game on the role of teachers on the perceived deteriorating quality of education without irrefutable evidence. The parents and society expect a lot from the teachers. Above all, the times have changed and the new times here in Bhutan demands new ideas, tools and forms of expertise, innovation, creativity, etc. The old schools of thought have designed an old model, systems along with old tools which now have become a thing of the past. Most believe teachers are born, and not made.

A teacher needs to be equipped with a sound knowledge of his subject and should have excellent communication skills. He or she should also have compassion towards students. There needs to be a democratic classroom environment.

The teaching-learning process is not one-way traffic, where a teacher may tell, read, shout, explain, demonstrate – but without ever inspiring. Where the children’s creativity, innovation, intelligence is controlled, diminished and never given an opportunity to develop. Where teachers claim that whatever they teach or speak is correct and are not able to accept critical or challenging questions. Where the teaching and learning process is expected to be reflected in tests and written exams, and not in consciously developing good human beings. Where rote learning is valued and teaching for understanding of life and self-transformation is poorly considered.

Speaking to the graduates of Paro and Samtse Colleges of Education, His Majesty the King stated that;

“Our education system built and nurtured with your hard work and dedication has served us well. But we must understand that times have changed here in Bhutan and all around us in the world. We cannot face new challenges with the same tools.” (Convocation Ceremony 2009)

This statement of His Majesty the King carries messages that directly or indirectly denote that teachers and educators needs to be trained and given the right tools for the right times, new tools and methodologies for the new challenges. Thus, does our education system deliver this?

Students, parents, society and other stakeholders view that it is the responsibility of teachers to equip future citizens of Bhutan with knowledge and skills to face the new challenges of the globalised world. But teachers needs support from all the stakeholders, especially political will plays a paramount role in fulfilling this mission. If political will is focused just on quantity, and not quality, then the quality of nation will be compromised.

There is no doubt that teachers are the backbone of any educational institution. Like it or not, they are role models. Children do not do what they are told to do, but observe what their parents and teachers are doing.  Are our teachers good enough and genuine human beings? Are our teachers practitioners?

Teachers should possess the qualities and characters which make them a complete human being. Teachers need to teach students the right thing in a right way and help them to develop an appreciation of their life so that it is more satisfying. Above all, teachers need to inspire students and society at large. This would happen only if our teachers and parents care enough to practice what they preach. Therefore, teachers need to be able to accommodate and adopt a range of roles and skills to suit specific situations.

In general teachers are expected to transform all the students into good human beings. People think that teachers possess inborn interpersonal skills to reach out to individual student to provide support. But very few will be blessed with such skills to impart knowledge and transform the minds of the students. Inborn talents are limited by nature. My conviction is that good teachers are made, not born. A good teacher is not just someone who knows his subject.

A good teacher is a person who makes learning enjoyable and effective for his students and one who inspires. To achieve this, one must have the knowledge, skills and experiences regarding teaching, especially in transforming the students into complete and good human being. It’s by no means an easy job. Moreover, no one can say that you can only be the prime minister or president if you are born to be, likewise, there will be no person born in this world only to teach.

Teachers are shaped through years of training, seminars, workshops and experiences. They need to learn the steps in planting seeds that make good people in the world and not merely to write exams and score pass marks. The system needs to inject professional development courses for the teachers to enable them to update their pedagogical skills and content knowledge in synchronization with the pace of globalization.

Not everyone is suited to be a teacher. Only  good, intelligent human beings with genuine sincerity would make a good teacher. This is debatable but ideal. This does not mean that any person cannot become a teacher. People can become what they want to be. A person cannot be someone in life unless they are trained well. There are specific things to be learned to become a teacher. A teaching profession is different from the other professions. It is the bedrock of all other professions. Teaching is craft and not an art. A good administrator, researcher, surgeon, philosopher, and good statesmen or politicians may not necessarily make a good teacher.

Readers and learners are the true teachers. Reading and studying is not necessarily confined to prescribed textbooks within a set curriculum. A teacher who ceases to read and learn is a poor teacher. Such teachers or schools would result in producing “over-schooled and under-educated” citizens…. When teachers teach, teachers learn twice (to teach is to learn twice).

But who is the best teacher or who should be considered the best teacher for teachers? Probably one’s own experience is one’s best teacher or one’s own experience should be considered as the best teacher. Well, what is experience and how is experience measured? Can it be measured on the basis of the number of years served – if in fact learning has not taken place, and the same thing has been done throughout? We need a reflective teaching strategy, self-assessment and evaluation methods by incorporating a wide range of instructional tools like differentiated instructional methods, etc.

By Mr. Pema Thinley

The writer works in the Centre for Bhutan Studies

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