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Who would do a job like this?

Written on 24/04/2010 – 8:07 pm | by mikeharrison

What is a teacher? What do they do?*

Not for the first time, I find my own thought expressed within someone else’s words.

“I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.”

A teacher is a task master. But more than that, a teacher is a motivator:

“I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
and an A- feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.”

A teacher is authority:

“I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall

in absolute silence.”

A teacher is the link between educational and domestic life:

“I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something Billy said today.
Billy said, “Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?”
And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen.
I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.”

A teacher is a spark:

“I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.”

A teacher holds a huge influence over the development of his or her learners. I’m not saying a teacher is the only influence, as friends and family as well as other commitments all have a bearing on any learning, but I would say a teacher bears a significant amount of reponsibility here. The classroom is a space created for learning. We need to be sure of this, what we are teaching and what there is to be learnt. A teacher needs to be able to get to their learners. to find out what makes them tick, and use this knowledge to encourage them on their journey. Some just need a little guidance, others may need a lot of prodding – they all need motivation. I’d say that teachers need to be able to motivate their learners. This risk needs to be taken.

A teacher needs to walk a fine line regarding being an authority. They need to be authoritative enough to create an environment where learners can be pushed on to achieve their best (in spite of any barriers there may be), but not so much that the teacher as authority becomes another barrier.

Above all, I think a teacher has to believe in their learners, but not blindly. If there is no belief, there will be less chance for learners to grow and learn. More than this, a teacher has to know their learners, what they can do, what they can’t do (yet), what they might not be comfortable doing, what they could do, what they want to do, perhaps what they need to do. A teacher should use this knowledge to help a learner go at the right pace, not letting them coast along at the same level and not setting the bar too high as to demotivate the learner.

I could go on, but I hope a lot of this is common sense.

I was going to continue this post, but I have found a number of people blogging on issues related to my idea of risk. All of these posts and the comments they have attracted are well worthy of your time reading them.

These bloggers and commentators have written so eloquently on these topics, I’d rather you read them than the few words I might put together.

*I’m not sure who tweeted this video way back in November when I first started using Twitter, but thanks to @luclip for tweeting it recently :)

What about you? What do you think a teacher is? Or who would do a job like this?

This post is part of a series on Risk. You can find related posts on the Series page.
I’m still looking for guest posts about a risk you have taken. I have one already in the pipeline but would love to hear from more people. If you’re interested, go to the Contact page and leave me a message :)

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  1. 8 Responses to “Who would do a job like this?”

  2.   By Esra on Apr 25, 2010 | Reply

    Dear Mike,
    Who would /can / should do a job like this? I think someone who is creative, young at heart and mind, energetic, enthusiastic,warm-hearted (sometimes like a mother/father), techy enough to understand the students’ language and meet their needs, inquiring, patient,motivating,well-prepared,organized, who can set reachable goals but still helps students to push their own personal limits, can construct a will to lifelong learning, who can teach things that can be applied beyond the classroom, teach students to be responsible of themselves and the society, who doesn’t complain to sleep less or stay at home on a Saturday night to finish reading the papers, who always asks “why” and “how”, who can be like a friend but is authoritarian enough not to be a friend, who can smile at people who says “Oh! You are a teacher! Teaching kids? Yours is easy!” and etc etc etc. You see, it’s just that easy:)
    Esra Girgin Akiskali

    •   By mikeharrison on Apr 25, 2010 | Reply

      Hi Esra, thanks so much for your comments.

      I agree with all your comments about creativity, enthusiam, energy, etc. Particularly I like the idea of being able to teach students ‘beyond the classroom’.

      I agree that a teacher needs to be a person who questions what they see, but I think we must switch off as well, else we might go crazy.

      And to tolerate those who think the job is easy because we are ‘just’ teaching kids or ‘just’ teaching the language we speak. That’s important, for sure, but we must stand up for ourselves and for what we do. I don’t think we should ‘just’ smile at these people…

      Mike =)

  3.   By Peter Whiley on Apr 25, 2010 | Reply

    A teacher is one of the most inspired people in the world. He/She has to be! Every day inspiration is needed, and demanded, from increasingly challenging students. This is why teachers have a major influence on the lives of their students, and are long remembered. They are often seen as special people, but sadly they are not treated as such or paid what they deserve. That is the tragedy of teachers.

    •   By mikeharrison on Apr 25, 2010 | Reply

      Hi Peter.

      Inspiration is a must in your book, and I think I agree. The inspiration to meet challenging students (and in whatever way they challenge us). I think a teacher forever should be changing it up, never working in exactly the same way all the time. I think the best teachers are those able to do this (in such a way they are able to meet the needs of all kinds of students), but this is a huge task.

      If only teachers were valued as they should be (a little biased here, but I agree with you!)

      Thanks very much for the comment =)


  4.   By StewT on Apr 26, 2010 | Reply

    The point of inspiring students is very worthwhile. And there are many teachers who are memorable for other reasons than being good educators.
    Take my school geography teacher who I remember less for his lesson content than his cruel detention methods. Authority gone wrong.

    As for the pay I think what Mali is getting at is what it is about.
    For me strangly enough it is seeing my students progress towards autonomy and develop as in individuals.

    •   By mikeharrison on Apr 26, 2010 | Reply

      Hi Stew, thanks very much for your comment.

      I’m glad you mentioned teachers being remembered for the wrong reasons – useful might be a ‘How not to be…’ post on teaching (must be one out there somewhere).

      I think pay is the issue that sets Mali off on his poetic tour de force, but I think (hope) the underlying message is that of encouraging students and guiding them down the right paths.

  5.   By Phil on Apr 26, 2010 | Reply

    I’d agree with all the sentiments here – it’s what you create in other people that counts… Thanks for the video, I might come back to it again.

    •   By mikeharrison on Apr 26, 2010 | Reply

      I definitely agree with that, Phil. Teaching’s is nothing without the other people (students, fellow teachers, even management – for good or bad reasons).

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