The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains.
The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
– William Arthur Ward
Just recently, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several teachers. They teach in Singapore’s Special Education (SPED) Schools and their jobs seem pretty different from the usual image of teachers standing in front of a board in a classroom of quietly seated students. Many teachers from the SPED schools can’t do that. They are literally with their students the whole time the students are in school, from being beside them instead of in front of them during lessons, to going for toilet breaks with their students. This sort of teaching isn’t so much about imparting content about a subject; this sort of teaching is about living. Great teachers demonstrate and inspire students, not just with regards to the tasks at hand (much of which is academic in Singapore), but also to be the best person they can be.
This summer when I observed teaching that wasn’t about imparting content, the valuable qualities of a teacher stood out to me: compassion, passion, patience and creativity.
- Compassion. This quality is vitally important if we are to truly have an inclusive society and a stronger Singapore. We need to remember the marginalized, not only the obviously needy, but also those students who fall behind. While doing research for a project my friends and I had to complete for a class, we came across cases where teachers had thought it better for some teenagers to leave school. Yet, being allowed out of the structure of school, many teenagers go wayward. Compassionate teachers are in the perfect position to contribute to the prevention of these unfortunate events through grace and compassion.
- Passion. Unfortunately, there are bound to be some bumps along the way, and so passion would keep a teacher going. I once had a coach who kept encountering problems with the sporting association. Even though it wasn’t easy to work with the association, he believed in his job and kept on coaching. And passion on his part has led to many victories for his athletes.
- Patience. Another valuable quality that would help a teacher keep going is that of patience. Learning is a never-ending process, with some learning quickly and others requiring more time.
- Creativity & Flexibility. Along with different amounts of time needed, different people learn in different ways. We should never assume a one size fits all approach. I remember when my mum (a tutor) used all sorts of methods with her students, from allowing them to explore my grandfather’s garden for science to playing with tiny plastic blocks for math. Even though pen and paper practices were important for the sake of exam preparation, all these other approaches appealed to her students’ own curiosity, inspiring and motivating them to learn. And perhaps such methods of actively engaging students are what teach best.
Fortunately, I’ve been on the receiving end of these qualities and I owe much of who I am today to many wonderful teachers I have had over the years, teachers in the form of my own parents, friends, coaches and schoolteachers. So… a huge THANK YOU to you all and a HAPPY TEACHERS’ DAY!!