A favourite old car sticker started with “If you can read this sticker…” and had several alternative endings. The most popular one said “If you can read this sticker… You’re driving too close”; more malicious ones said “If you can read this sticker… I can hit brakes and sue”; others said “If you can read this sticker… I’m not impressed, most people can read”; but of course, the most celebrated one always reads, “If you can read this sticker… thank a teacher”.
Did we ever actually thank our teachers? Teachers play a big part in our lives, for good or for bad, it has to be said. We would do well to pause for a moment and reflect on the teachers that we had when we were at school whom we considered to be great teachers, whom we would wish to thank.
What was it about them that we liked, admired or appreciated? Did we realise at the time how fortunate we were to have them? After all, great teachers are hard to find.
Now here is the thing: we as parents all want our children to have the best teachers. That is clearly understandable, wholly reasonable, perfectly acceptable. We all believe our children deserve the best teacher; it is our right, we feel.
That is what we or the government are paying them for, to provide an excellent education for our children. We are not too worried if other people’s children do not have the best teacher, as long as our child has the best! We want the best teachers for our child, those who will inspire, excite, enrich, equip, enlighten our precious child to ensure she will go far in life. We want the best for our child, probably in terms of prosperity, position, power, privilege, and we want them to have the best teachers to do that.
But now, here is an even bigger thing: we want our child to go far in life, sure, obviously, reasonably, but we do not want them to be a teacher. We do not encourage our children to become teachers. In fact, we do not see that as going anywhere in life.
We will encourage our child to go into law or business or the medical profession, but not into teaching. We want our child to have the best teacher but we do not want them to be a teacher — yet is not our child the best? How can the next generation have great teachers if our child does not become one?
And here is one more thing: we want the best teacher for our child but we ourselves will not be that teacher. We will not choose to be a teacher.
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We see ourselves as being far more important and able than that. Then how can our child have the best teacher if we ourselves are not prepared to be that teacher? After all, we as parents often claim to know how to teach better than the teacher our child has so why are we not teachers ourselves? If it is so important that our child has the best teacher, why are we not doing our best for our child and being that teacher? Yes, great teachers are hard to find so did we ever consider following in their footsteps and emulating them?
Of course, we may say we would not be a teacher because we do not want to deal with those badly behaved children, those unmotivated, troublesome lazy pupils. We want someone else to do that (even when our own child might just happen to fall into the category we have just decried). We will not be a teacher because teachers are not being paid enough; then what will we do about that?
Here is an interesting thought, shared by a senior official in the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education on a personal level.
This senior official as a child went to a mission boarding school, like his numerous other siblings, paid for by his father who was a teacher in a government school; his father could afford to send all his children then to boarding schools on a teacher’s salary. This senior official now cannot afford to send even one child to a mission boarding school. And what do we say? Tough luck! Who cares! Or do we say: something is wrong here?
In a similar vein to the car stickers above, there used to be a phase when we had stickers inspired by the lines that “Old soldiers never die — they just fade away”. So we had “Old fishermen never die… they just smell that way”; “Old accountants never die, they just lose their balance”; “Old doctors never die, they just lose their patience”.
Then more pertinently we have “Old academics never die, they just lose their faculties” and “Old Teachers never die, they only lose their class”. Do we want teachers with class? We must elevate them, encourage our children to be them, and even be them.
- Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
- email: [email protected]
- website: www.atschisz