The Mediocre Teacher Tells, the Great Teacher Inspires
By Ikram Benzouine
Rabat – As I begin these pages, my mind takes me back to a quote I once read by William Arthur Ward: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” For me, teaching is inspiration; the teacher’s job transcends the mere act of imparting bookish information to students. I think that the fundamental goal and pleasure of teaching can neither be achieved nor sensed through lecturing and rote memorization of knowledge. I strongly maintain that traditional schooling has never been the finest model of educating individuals with “undefined identities” (i.e. teenage students).
As a teacher, my duty is to inspire my students to discover themselves freely instead of making them abide by the strict national standards of the coursebook. Inspiration cannot be engraved in textbooks nor on class boards; instead it is modelled by and through the teacher. Simply put, my role will never be limited to the one-dimensional sphere of schooling but will be all about educating and instilling good manners and paving the way for my learners’ self-discovery. I expect my students to be unique individuals with exceptional aspirations and talents albeit undefined and undiscovered.
Since my very childhood, my parents have always been encouraging me to discover who I am, and find out what I really want from life. They have never forced me to read a book all day long and make me memorize as many words as I can to find or “correct” myself. Yet, my parents did shape my personality through their guidance and love. What I am alluding to is that parenting is not that different from teaching. They both require a model, a guide on the side, and a source of inspiration; I aspire to embody all of these traits in my teacher-to-be self.
Like a parent, my goal is to provide a secure, caring and stimulating learning atmosphere in which my students can grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, and socially by using such a strategy as positive discipline.
My overwhelming desire is to arouse in them an eager want to be themselves in class and to help them develop their potentials by believing in them as gifted and capable beings. I personally believe that encouragement and appreciation are more effective teaching devices than punishment or scolding. Hence, when dealing with my students, not only should I attend to them as beings of logic, but as emotional humans as well. Teenage students’ desperate craving is to be appreciated. By giving them that sense of importance, I will be able to leave a long-standing mark in their hearts and minds, filling them up with exalting self-confidence. Thus, the longer I teach, the more important it is for me to see that my students are curious, contented, and at ease in my classroom. The nifty trick is to bring students’ interests to the surface, for many of them are unaware of what they want to learn.
In order to guarantee the practicability and utility of my teaching philosophy, I intend to incorporate three main instructional strategies which I believe will best portray and consolidate my delivery tactics. To begin with, I think that implementing individual instruction is crucial to fostering students’ self-confidence and pride. I am determined to remember my students’ first names, thereby treating them on first-name terms. This will not only help me keep a better rapport with them, but will also improve their self-esteem and instil positive feelings about the course and the task under study.
Addressing my students as individuals also means that I should be knowledgeable about their skills, their expectations about the class as well as about me, and their goals. To be exact, I cannot inspire individuals whose backgrounds are not yet made known to me. A key principle to inspiration, I believe, is to be prepared for each class. I am now reminded of a few of the high-school classes I attended where the teacher’s materials were irrelevant to me and my classmates. I also remember the tediousness and disappointment I felt in such courses and was determined since then to avoid that in my classes. For that reason, I deem knowing my students’ qualifications and backgrounds crucial to helping me prepare pertinent activities, with visuals if needed, so as to inspire my students to know more about the language I am teaching them.
The above-stated argument smoothes the path for my second teaching strategy: preparing relevant materials. As a student, I could (rather, still can) detect whether my teacher has devoted time to making the instructional material related to her students’ expectations. I must say that I have always admired my teachers’ efforts to prepare the right activities. In fact, the best teachers I have had know how to teach me a specific material in such a way that makes it more feasible and relevant to my own needs.
To assure the same upshot, I will provide real-world examples that demonstrate the concepts under instruction. For instance, I can make use of current events to illustrate concepts and ideas that my students may not be that familiar with. By discussing and reporting what the media writes or says in class, my students can be more knowledgeable about another dimension of English. That is, I want them to view English not only as a mere linguistic structure (i.e. accuracy) but also as a means of functional communication (i.e. fluency). In view of this objective, I plan to adopt class participation and discussion as my third instructional strategy.
For me, the finest way to consolidate and assess the feasibility of the materials I prepare is to invite and welcome students’ talk about the content of presented lessons. Giving them this opportunity will help me set future goals that are to generate much richer activities than I could have thought about. This way, students also get the impression that their voices about the curriculum are of great magnitude, which gives them a sense of pride and inspires them more to learn. I believe that expressing individual opinions in class is an important part of students’ learning process because they do not only share but also receive constructive feedback about these opinions.
In point of fact, teaching students about the importance of participation and communication (inside or outside the classroom) helps them become successful, active, and autonomous members in society. So, if I call on students to respond to my inquiries either individually or in groups, I will be able to activate and measure their critical and creative thinking skills using the right teaching approach. For example, I might require students to be involved in project works so as to leave room for them to challenge and put to actual test their communication and negotiation skills outside the classroom. After all, my ultimate goal is to make them in charge of their own learning, relying on their own assets so that they can shape what, how and who they want to be.
As I conclude these reflections, I am reminded of one of Horace Mann’s sayings: “A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.” I believe he was talking about inspiration (or motivation) as key ingredient in effective teaching and learning. Horace’s statement brings to light the common claim made by most teachers which testifies that students’ motivation is one of the toughest challenges they face. Teachers usually describe their students as being disinterested, lethargic and impassive. Obviously, lack of positive motivation or failure to inspire is responsible for problems of students’ behavior as well as difficulties in learning. This means that when we teachers speak of student motivation, we are actually talking about influencing our students’ motives so that they learn what we want them to learn, think in the way we want them to think without changing their essence, and embrace the values we want them to embrace so as to meet the expectations set by their surroundings.
It is true that inspiring students, especially teenagers, must be the toughest job. However, as teachers we should overcome the already-held impressions and attitudes about our students before we can expect learning or teaching to take place. From my personal experience, I could see that those who gain both personal and academic success are those whose self-confidence is promoted thanks to their teacher’s encouragements and motivation.
What I also could draw from my humble experience is that through honesty we can best inspire students to be the individuals we aspire them to be. That is, when being and displaying my true self, my students will respond likewise, and it will help me be clear about their goals and objectives. My aim is to create a harmonious community in my classroom; a way for my students to feel involved and valued, and a way for them to help each other learn how to use each other’s ideas to create bigger things, regardless of how different these ideas may be. In the end, the material I teach is not as important as the behaviors I model and instil because I view these values as crucial to inspiring my students in all parts of their lives not only in learning.
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