Friday, January 19, 2007
Let me start this post with two contrary quotations: (1) “Those who can do, and those who cannot teach.” I seem to remember that it was George Bernard Shaw who said this, though I am open to correction as I have not checked its provenance. I heard a teacher wag add a little more to this rather cynical remark, namely: “Those who cannot teach teach teachers.” This latter comment shows the incredible and unwarranted criticism by teachers of those involved in teaching pedagogy at third level. There is probably a level of bitterness and jealousy in this comment, I’d warrant. The other quote is somewhat lofty in sentiment, but very true for all that. (2) It goes: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”(Henry Adams) Perhaps the reality lies somewhere in between these two extremes.
I qualified as a teacher in 1980 and have been teaching now, save for a three year career break, for some 24 years. If you can stick it for that length of time you certainly must like it as a career. I definitely love it as a job and have always wanted to be a teacher since I was 7 years of age. I had some really fine inspiring teachers when I was in primary school.
I, like many others in my profession find teaching tiring, exasperating, challenging and stressing on the one hand but exciting, inspiring, uplifting and rewarding on the other. In this post I wish to concentrate on the latter, namely its rewarding aspect. As a teacher of over 20 years standing one of the most rewarding aspects is the contact with past pupils. Already through the medium of this blog I have had two past pupils get in contact with me – one from 12,000 miles away in New Caledonia and the other from the West Coast of America some 6,000 miles from here. It is nice to be remembered and to know that you have had some influence upon your students.
Education is about so much. It includes both information and formation. The imparting of knowledge is just a small though very relevant part of the educative exercise. The formation of character is so much more important, that is, educating our students to be moral persons and good citizens. Indeed, it is edifying to note that so many of one’s students got high grades or points and went on to prestigious universities and so called professional courses. However, it is even more rewarding to be thanked by so called “weaker” students for helping them through.
A past pupil and his wife stay with me when they visit Dublin. Many years ago I recognized his promise and predicted that some day he’d gain a Ph.D. At present he is preparing to defend his doctorate in Irish Studies through the medium of French in the Sorbonne. Another former pupil is now a primary teacher and constantly reminds me that I was instrumental in his acquiring his entry qualifications in Gaeilge for the primary sector of teaching.
Outside that, there are other rewarding aspects which third level teachers or lecturers are not the recipients of in their teaching. Pupils in secondary schools, because of the emotional turmoil of those years, need their teachers more. The countless times that pupils come to their teachers for help and assistance or just for a friendly ear is ennobling and enriching to a supreme degree. To be trusted by others and especially by the young and vulnerable is a “sacred” and special role which only a teacher can appreciate. Sometimes when I read of how abusers of all kinds take advantage of such innocence, vulnerability and trust makes me angry to an inordinate degree.
Those times where pupils trust me with their important concerns touches the very core of my being. Indeed I often find the tears coming to my eyes when I later meditate upon the “sacred ground” or “sacred space” between teacher and pupil or counsellor and client in such situations. Aristotle once said, and I’m not sure whether most parents would agree with him, that “teachers should be more honoured than parents, for whereas parents give their children life, teachers give their children a good life.”
The above picture is one of me teaching in the Gaeltacht area of Donegal, Coláiste Árainn Mhóir, some 3 or 4 years back.