Signpost Teacher

When I was teaching English as a second language I observed that there were individuals who were very knowledgeable in their subject but who were not very successful as teachers, and there were some who might not know every nook and corner of their subject but who were capable of conveying information in such a way that it would sink in; but is it only information that a teacher needs to convey? What else is there that makes a teacher successful? Now when I look back to see the traits of the teachers that I have come across in my studies and in my observations, I have found another element that seems to be one of the most important elements of successful teaching: the keen desire to go above and beyond to make a connection with the students, a connection that implies that the teacher is aware of their concerns, no matter how trivial they may seem to him. A teacher appears distant and teaching becomes mechanical if he thinks that conveying the course material is the only job he has on his hands.

A teacher can not escape from being a role model. His behaviors and approaches may influence the students for a long time or they may influence them just for the time he teaches, but he can’t escape from creating an environment that sets a moral impetus for his class. The way he treats his students, and the traits of his character he displays in his classroom, establish a moral gauge by which that class would work for the rest of the year. Therefore, it is important for the teacher to insist on the grounds he has laid out for his class and also be consistent and realistic in the demands he makes from his students.

Conveying information (or knowledge) is taken as the prime duty of a teacher. If this is so, then how should a teacher structure the information in such a way that can create intellectual challenges for his students that would lead them to wisdom about their life and the around them? Some teachers are like telegraphic machines: they provide you with specific sets of words, and you need to figure out their meaning. Some teachers are like lighthouses in the sea: they call you, once you are there, their job is finished. The rest of them are like signposts, you have to find your own path but once you start walking on it you find many signposts that remind you of the essence of the conclusion you made before you started to walk on your path. Sometimes the signpost remind you of the teacher, sometimes it doesn’t, but it is ingrained in your memory and you always notice it on your way. This signpost has a tendency to appear more often at the crossroads of your life when you are in the process of making big decisions of your life. Of course, the teacher in the last analogy is the one that has a long-lasting desirous affect on his students.  Hansen writes in Call to Teach, “I have responded to the question of whether teaching must be a vocation by arguing that a sense of service, however inchoate may be, is more crucial than a full-blown theory or philosophy of it,” the signpost teacher is the one who does the best service to the students, not only when he is teaching but also for the rest of their lives.

But to be a signpost teacher is not easy. “Bureaucratic rules and conditions, encompassing everything from short class periods…to extending paperwork” gets in the way of a teacher who has higher goals than just covering the curriculum. In Call toTeach, Mr. James talked about the disdainful way his colleagues treated his students due to his approach to teaching. The most important question that the book raises is, “is it truly possible and viable to treat one’s work in the classroom as a vocation” in the current environment of the schools? The fours teachers we have met in the book prove that despite the “bureaucratically driven institutions” and despite the frustrations in the process of teaching, teachers can be signposts.           

                                                                                         Imran Omer
Hansen T. David. (1995). The call to teach. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


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