An infamous saying goes “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I am not sure how this came about, but it refers to the long-held misconception that if you were good at doing something you would go out and do it, instead of just talking about it in the classroom. But of course, this begs the question: is it just talk that goes on in the classroom? I would add even more questions: what is being talked about? Who is doing the talking? How is the talk taking place? What is it achieving? How far is the impact of all the talk-related activity going to go?
These are important questions, which have no definite answers because they depend so much on a plethora of variables- the subject, the classroom layout and facilities, the students, their interests and backgrounds, current beliefs and events, and also- the teacher. But asking the questions is still very important, because it is in this way that we force people who claim to believe in the above saying to eat their words.
Teaching is not an easy job. And in Singapore, I am glad to say that very few people think it is. It has been well documented how many things teachers have to do. Committees, CCAs, performance reviews, action research… and I haven’t even started on the actual teaching yet! Apart from putting resources together, marking students’ work (ugh), setting exam papers and so on, there is the one aspect that people take for granted, but on which so much of the teacher’s self-esteem depends.
I am talking about actually facing a class of students. You put yourself out there hour after hour, day after day. It is a huge investment of your emotions. And you deal with your students’ emotions as well, because you know that there is no way that 40 kids are all thinking the same thing at the same time. That is why teachers feel so drained at the end of the day. Hey- being nice to so many people can be a big strain! 🙂
That is why I say- teaching is not a job for the faint hearted. Those who can reach out to other people, those who can manage their own emotions, those who can take something difficult and explain it in such a way that anyone can understand it, those who can lead and yet teach others to lead as well, those who can give up the chance to be in the limelight so that the light may shine on others, those who can think, feel and understand, those who can open their minds to allow others inside, those who can take something boring and make it fascinating.. those who can do all this and more, these are the ones who teach.
This teachers’ day, I would like to thank my students, not only for the little notes and gifts and smiles, but for the glow of understanding on their faces, their effort to learn what I have to teach them and their willingness to share themselves with me. I thank them because they are cheerful, tireless and inspiring. I also want to thank all the teachers I have had in my life, in school as well as out of it.
But I think that most of all, I would like to thank my fellow teachers, who have stuck it out in the profession despite all the late nights, rowdy classes, endless meetings, repetitive marking, inexplicable computer systems, inhumane deadlines and sore feet. They don’t teach because they can’t. They teach because they can.