August 19, 2016

On World Teachers’ Day 2015, remember that teachers are mortals too

Since 1994, every year, on October 5, nations of the world join together to express their gratitude to teachers for dedicating themselves to the nurturing of youths, thereby ensuring a sound future for them as well as for their societies.  For the people of Myanmar, it seems that every day of the year is Teachers’ Day, as we express our respect to our teachers in our prayers at the start of every day.  By placing teachers on the same level as the three gems, the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, and our parents, in return, we expect a lot from them, such as, being good role models for morality and self-discipline, being exemplary persons regarding self-sacrifice in the interest of society, and being fonts of ever-increasing knowledge.  However, we often forget that as her human beings like us, they are mortals and have needs, wants, and ambitions.  Like all of us, they fall in love, they get married, they grow old, they suffer from ill-health, they need to take care of their parents and they need to feed, clothe and educate their children, and to do so they need a reasonable income.  However, probably because their number is one of the highest among government employees in Myanmar, as well as in many other developing and developed countries, their role in society is not that highly appreciated, and neither are they as highly paid as other professionals like doctors, engineers and executives.
As we celebrate World Teachers’ Day on 5th October, since all of us had teachers when we were young, we need to not only offer a special prayer for their physical and mental well-being, but we also need to think of what each teacher has done for us, and in return what we have done, and what can do for them, individually and collectively, in return for the many roles they played during our formative years. They had been care, affection and security givers to us, so that our parents could earn a living for our families with peace of mind. They had been moral guides and good role models to us, so that we became responsible adults, who could differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil, should and should not, and the possible and the impossible. They had been friends and counselors to us when we needed advice and consolation. They had been competent knowledge providers and skill developers, working hard to devise lesson plans, teaching us using the best techniques, and ensuring that we learn by disciplining us, so that we possess sufficient knowledge, and social, thinking, communication and professional skills to go on learning and to find a decent job when we reach adulthood, or to even become leaders in our chosen fields.  Let us forget, for the moment, the small number of teachers who want to become rich quickly and are in the wrong profession, who are not fulfilling their responsibilities, or who are bad models for students, or who are exploiting their students in various ways to become wealthy.  For the majority of teachers, no sacrifice is too large for them to make, no school is too remote for them to work at, no lesson is too burdensome for them to teach, no student question is too tiresome for them to answer, and no student is too slow or too dim-witted for them to instruct.
This year’s theme of World Teachers’ Day calls for the empowerment of teachers. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (7th edition) provides two meanings to the word empower – “to give somebody the power or authority to do something”, and “to give somebody more control over their own life, or the situation they are in”. According to EDWATCH Wiki retrieved from the Internet, Teacher Empowerment (2002) mentioned that S.F. Bolin defined teacher empowerment as “investing teachers the right to participate in the determination of school goals and policies and to exercise professional judgment about what and how to teach”. What then should be done to empower our teachers from primary level to university level? In empowering them, firstly, they need to realize that as teachers, they know best regarding their classrooms and their students since their daily interactions with their students makes them familiar with students’ strength and weaknesses, what interests them, what makes them bored, which areas to connect with the world outside and which areas with other subjects. They also have the authority to make decisions regarding the pace of the lesson, the techniques to be used, the examples to be given, and the teaching aids to be utilized. They also need to realize that as teachers, they are empowered to use the appropriate strategies to manage their classes, but they must also know that they should not abuse the authority that have been invest in them over their students.  Secondly, school management needs to see teachers, not as subordinates who carry out their decisions, but as important and equal partners, and to invite them to participate when setting goals and policies for the school.  Similarly, school inspectors should appreciate that many teachers are working in very difficult circumstances, and should advise them on how to improve their performance rather than merely find fault with them.   However, to be able to participate actively in determining school goals and policies, teachers need to be professionally competent, have the confidence that as teachers they have a lot to contribute in planning the school’s future, and must have the courage to voice their opinion in any discussions or decision making.  In addition, teachers should insist that management take into consideration their views when choosing teaching materials, methodology and teaching aids, so that they come to have a genuine sense of ownership and responsibility. On the part of management, they need to strengthen the competencies of teachers by giving them opportunities to improve themselves and how they think, to learn best practices and to be more in touch with the world beyond the school gates. Thirdly, a conducive and supportive working environment should be provided for all teachers so that they can fully concentrate on their work.  In addition, self-esteem as well as community respect for teachers should be enhanced by providing them with an adequate salary and facilities that are in commensurate with the efforts they have to exert, the time they have to give and the contributions they make for the development of their society.
This year’s theme of World Teachers’ Day also calls for the participation of empowered teachers in building sustainable societies.  Hossain (1995) defines a sustainable society as follows: “A sustainable society implicitly connotes one that is based on a long-term vision in that it must foresee the consequences of its diverse activities to ensure that they do not break the cycles of renewal; it has to be a society of conservation and generational concern. It must avoid the adoption of mutually irreconcilable objectives. Equally, it must be a society of social justice because great disparities of wealth or privilege will breed destructive disharmony.” Today many countries are facing the challenge of economic development outpacing their human and natural resources.  So also, the priority being given to economic development is adversely affecting their environment.  Of great concern also is the possible impact on social harmony as gaps in ownership of land, financial assets and natural resources widen and incomes fail to keep up with expenditure.  Hence, teachers who serve as the eyes and ears of the community in many societies can play an important role in building awareness of the dangers of social disharmony, environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources and the benefits of building sustainable societies, both among the students and within the community.  Moreover, using their research findings and organizational skills, teachers can convince students and their communities to seek maximum growth with the least possible minimum harm to natural resources, the natural environment and human well-being and leave future generations a world that is peaceful, inclusive, prosperous, unspoilt and resource bountiful.
It is widely recognized that the quality of education influences the development path of a country.  In the same way, the quality of teachers in a country dictates the quality of education and the level of student achievement. Therefore, let us, on World Teachers’ Day, as citizens of Myanmar, reexamine what we have done and can do for the empowerment and benefit of teachers. When the world is facing so many complex challenges, environmental, economic, social and security, we need to always remember that just as education is the key to solving many of the problems so also the key change agents in the education sector are the teachers.  In order to raise their morale, we need also to show more appreciation to our teachers.  We need to make them not regret that they have become teachers. We need to make them feel that their sacrifices have not been in vain.  We need to also comfort those among our teachers who are in the twilight of their lives, by visiting them once in a while, and telling them in how many ways they have changed our lives, and how they have helped us to contribute to the development of our country.  On their part, teachers (including those who are in the profession, not for the love of students or the work of a teacher, but to make money), should examine what they need to do to keep pace with emerging new knowledge and skills in order to participate more actively in teaching students as well as in the management of their school and the building of sustainable societies.


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