It’s the personal touch that matters

  • Education
  • Sunday, 24 Dec 2017

While there is so much to be gained from the digital age, nothing beats the teacher who is truly in tune with the academic and emotional aspects of a student’s development.

NOBODY sends cards anymore,” I heard my elderly aunt comment rather wistfully as she once again rearranged the three rather lonely looking Christmas cards on her display cabinet.

“We don’t need to send actual cards anymore Grandma,” said her ear-old granddaughter.

“It’s so much easier now. We just use our phones. See, watch this” she said as she tapped a few keys on her smartphone.

A rousing Jingle Bells tune began to play as a cartoon Santa spelled out a Christmas greeting in three languages.

“So much better than your dreary cards. You can read, hear and even sing along. Come on Grandma, let’s sing.”

She reached for her grandmother’s arm and swung her around in an animated jig across the living room.

We all had to laugh at her enthusiasm and simply because of the merriment in the air.

“Okay, enough,” said her Grandma catching her breath. After she had settled herself comfortably in her favourite chair, she turned to us and said, “Of course I know that things are so much easier these days. I get many greetings for Christmas on my smartphone too.”

As if to prove her point, she rummaged through her handbag for her mobile phone and opened her social media application.

“Wah, Grandma, you have more WhatsApp Christmas greetings than me,” said the granddaughter peering over her shoulder.

“Hushhh,” said the elderly woman slapping her granddaughter playfully on the wrist.

What my aunt meant to say was that even with the music, dancing and sparkling lights and videos, she still preferred the traditional greeting card that the postman delivered with the envelope and stamp.

“Nothing like holding the Christmas card in my hands, admire the cover and reading through the words again and again.

“I like to think that the person who had sent me the card had taken the trouble to choose the card for me and and had then written my name and posted it,” said my aunt.

“That’s just the thing. When people take that extra effort it makes you feel so much more appreciated doesn’t it?”

Her words took me back to the time when I was a student myself and getting greeting cards was something my classmates and I looked forward to during festivals.

We would compare the number of cards we had received and displayed them in strategic places in our homes, to impress our guests.

Perhaps the paperless electronic greetings we currently have are more environment- friendly, but I could relate to the “personal touch” my aunt was talking about in those greeting cards of the past.

Strangely, it also reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a group about how necessary teachers were going to be in classrooms of the future.

“Teacher-less classrooms. That’s what we should be eventually moving to,” said one person.

“After all we are talking about 21st century learning. It’s all about student-centredness. The teacher’s role will not be as significant.

“Students are encouraged to discover learning themselves, set their own goals, track their own progress. In the end, we may not even have teachers in classrooms anymore.”

“Imagine going to a school and finding that there are no teachers there. How odd? But then again, we never know, ” said another person.

The teacher’s role in our schools is slowly evolving towards that of a facilitator of learning. Students are being encouraged to both access and take ownership of their own learning.

Making a difference

Still, there are many things that teachers carry out which may or may not be part of their official job description and yet add a poignant significance to their roles.

It is the personal touch of a teacher that can often make the difference between a student’s desire to strive towards greater goals or being content with mediocrity.

It is also the teacher’s actual presence, the tone of her voice, the words she chooses, her expressions and reactions that can make a student who feels like giving up after repeated failure, get up and try again and again until he eventually succeeds.

Even when there are appointed school counsellors, many times students turn to their teachers with tales of their lives in their own homes.

They are sometimes funny but often sad, tales of broken homes, broken relationships and their own brokenness.

And the number of times when teachers have played crucial roles in helping these children are perhaps too many to recall.

Most of them go unrecorded anyway. And yet I believe that if every teacher were asked to relate one incident at least where it was their personal touch and not pedagogical skills or learning theories that made the difference in a student’s life, I think our learning diaries will overflow with stories.

The advancements in technology has allowed information transfer and communication to be much easier and has made the whole world of knowledge accessible to our students.

In many ways, they are empowered to teach themselves, and head in the direction of the dreams they have envisioned for themselves.

Teachers too wish this for their students, that as time progresses they require less support from their teachers and become increasingly independent.

But throughout this journey, they will require that personal touch from their teachers every now and then.

They will need that encouraging word, that special attention and that nudge.

They need their teachers to praise them when they have done something well, defend them when they need to be, scold them and help them to see many paths when they see only one.

Some may even need their teachers to help mediate in family situations, or even drive them home when they’ve missed their school bus.

And I do believe that long after their years in school are over and when they are busy with their own jobs or families, it is these moments that our students will remember most about us.

Not so much whether we used sophisticated and futuristic methods in our pedagogy but how much of the personal touch we put in our interactions with them. Just like the personal touch we often get from “real” greeting cards.

Such cards during any festive season be it Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Chinese New Year, Deepavali or Christmas, are fast becoming a dying tradition, and maybe that is why getting one now makes it especially meaningful to some of us.

It makes you feel that you are remembered in a special way during such occasions.

Merry Christmas!

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