Regardless of the standards set for the teaching service, there are many educators who stand out simply because of their dedication, competence, creativity and intelligence.
IT was one of those forwarded messages that you sometimes get on your messaging applications or social networking websites.
A line or two which at first glance appears witty, a pun or play on words which seem harmless and even a little amusing.
No one really knows the original author, or intent and the message seems to have been put together a little carelessly.
A few eyebrows are raised, there are some smirks or “likes”, cynical remarks are passed and then the whole thing is forgotten.
Except that in the case of this particular message, I couldn’t dismiss it immediately although in retrospect I think I should have.
I can’t remember the exact words of the message – it wasn’t written in English.
But the gist of it was that if a particular person had been more intelligent, then he would not have chosen teaching as a profession.
He would in fact, have been “a pharmacist, doctor or engineer”.
It was a message composed with little thought, a false proposition, frivolous and not even worthy of a reaction.
And yet, those few lines triggered some internal “justification” and put every defensive cell on alert.
If you are a teacher and someone implies that teachers are not a very intelligent lot, it affects your professional pride and puts your back up.
And even if the author of that statement is utterly devoid of credibility and what had been written alluded to the thousands of teachers in the country, your immediate reaction is personal.
When something that you are truly passionate about and has been part of your life for so long is put down in some way, you would naturally feel indignant, if not offended. Parts within you rise up in protest.
Teachers who take pride in what they are, will understand this feeling.
They know what it is like to be in a public place and hear someone call out “Teacher”’ or “Cikgu”.
Even if there are a hundred teachers present, you instantly think that it is you that they are referring to .
It’s a like mothers who instinctively turn whenever they hear a child cry or call out for his mother.
We are all to some extent affected by things that happen to other teachers in the country, and to the teaching service as a whole.
The first thought that came to me upon reading the message mentioned earlier was the names of all the teachers, past and present who had come into the service holding excellent academic results.
Among them were those who had been top students in their schools and who had chosen teaching above every other profession.
I thought of former award-winning students who were now doing marvellous jobs as teachers, investing their lives to help bring out the best in their own students.
I wanted to talk about those who stay on in schools in remote parts of the country, surrounded by jungles and accessible only by river, to teach children who may never get an education otherwise.
I wanted to talk also about the many knowledgeable, interesting even brilliant individuals I know, who are teachers, about their depth, commitment and wisdom.
While it may be one’s right to express an opinion and all people should be considered of equal value, ideas are not.
So, not all ideas should be tolerated, especially those which are based on hasty generalisations.
There were after all people in every other professional field who could be perceived as incompetent or not up to the mark.
I also remember the time I had taken an academic transcript of a teacher trainee to an education officer to be stamped.
He had looked at the string of straight As on the certificate and asked why this candidate had chosen “of all things” (his exact words), to become a teacher when she could have been a professional perhaps a doctor, engineer or pharmacist.
Yes, it was the same line of thinking, but this time from someone high up in the education hierarchy.
His job required him to recruit candidates with promising potential and excellent academic achievements for the teaching service.
And I remember also that along with the high achievers who had chosen to become teachers of their own accord, there were also those who had chosen the profession because it was the only option that was available to them.
Some of them would have opted for other career paths, if they had been offered the courses of their choice.
There were also vast differences in entry point qualifications even among teachers who are presently on the same pay scale.
There also exist a great many differences among teachers in terms of competence, diligence, work ethics and yes both emotional and intelligence quotients.
But then again these differences are present in virtually every other profession.
And yet, even among teachers who hadn’t initially wanted to become teachers, there are many who have embraced the profession.
They’ve wrapped themselves up so thoroughly into all that is related with their job, that it has come to define what they are.
Along the way they have turned out into fine teachers and made giant leaps in their level of professional knowledge and expertise.
Not all of them have had promotions but they remain like gems in the service, well-known for their knowledge, skills and dedication.
But at the same time there are others who have never chosen to develop themselves professionally and remain at the same level they came in.
They remain in the service dishing out the bare minimum and at times way below that.
In as much as it is their own fault for choosing not to be better teachers, it is also the fault of the system.
It has allowed them to become teachers, especially when their heart is not in it.
But even those who turn the wheels of the system are themselves part of it.
Who who knows how many of those in decision-making places have seeped in through cracks and flaws?
However, what we can claim to be true is that regardless of the standards and benchmarks that have been set at entry points into the teaching service, there are definitely some who shine more brightly than others.
Competencies, skills and intelligences vary. And in the teaching service at least, the stars are not always twinkling in the sky above.
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