A Certain Something

Teaching is a profession of a peculiar kind. It is not only about the transmigration of data from one mind to another, but rather about educating new generations, moulding personalities, thus giving them the basis for future opportunities. If this is the delicate goal to be achieved, upon which criteria teachers ought to be selected? 

Here in Italy, for example, it is enough to have a university degree and pass a competitive  exam, where mostly the knowledge of the subject you mean to teach is tested. Then, after a probation year, during which apparently your teaching skills should be carefully verified, but practically nobody cares  – unless one day you screw everything up and yield to the impulse of strangling Pietro, who has kept annoying you for an entire semester, thus clearly demonstrating your inaptitude – you become a licensed teacher at last. But is this selecting procedure adequate?

Best education, best grades, don’t necessarily make you the the best of teachers, and even training courses, refresh courses, developing courses are of no use, unless you possess that something which truly makes a teacher, which is  a natural disposition you’ve been born with and that cannot be apprehended on books. Somebody might object that this could be the same for any job, but, of course,  I disagree. If you don’t search that sense of gratification that you achieve when you arouse the pleasure of understanding in others’ minds and if you cannot communicate your passion and the genuine intent to involve them, teaching will make you miserable for the rest of your life.The necessary effort of understanding those minds means being aware of the fact that, as students grow you must grow with them, thus accepting to re-invent yourself, your style, update your  language and ready to put aside what once was useful, as generations change and quickly. All this should not be felt as frustrating, as it often happens, but rather, challenging. But still, it is not on books that you learn it.

Teachers should be above all charming people, let’s use a more trendy word: sort of “influencers” and this is incontrovertible to me. Enchanters, mentors and leaders at the same time with the great ambition of making students enjoy what they learn rather than just do it. I dislike those pages on the web run by the same  teachers, where we are mostly described as ill treated, underpaid miserable bunch of people, in a form of a joke. I don’t mean they are telling lies, of course, a lot ought to be done and spent on education, but reinforcing the common idea that teachers are losers doesn’t make really any sense as nobody wishes to emulate a loser. We should set the example, but a successful one. 

We won’ t be considered more just saying we wish to be so, we must act, create another story telling, which is the truth for most of us actually, that is : even if there is neither big money or success, teaching is a privilege and a great one. And when we are attacked on our few prerogatives like, for example, having two months of holidays every year, rather than feeling guilty and be on the defensive, acting like losers in the effort of explaining how much time we spend on extra work, grading, burnout danger and so on, take my example and reply : ” I am sorry, but you are wrong, I have THREE months of holidays and even more, since our mayor has taken the habit of closing schools, when it is likely to rain!” This kind of explanation allows me also to kill two birds with one stone, as it could be for many a very good reason to choose another mayor next time; after all being a little subtle constitutes an essential part of being a teacher.

Hence, if you keep complaining and truly believe that what I have said so far is not required or essential, trust me, choose another profession,  if you don’t want to make yourself miserable for the rest of your life; if you feel underestimated, please change, you are still in time ; if you are hungry for money and success, go away, especially if you are young, the school is not the right place for you, if you are looking for popularity, why choosing the classroom as stage, when there is the vastness of the web; if you have all or only some of these ambitions and you still want to be teacher, your working life will be like hell.

So long the selection procedures of teachers will be focused mostly on knowledge rather than personality or attitudes, so long you believe that attending training courses may be a remedy to deficiencies in character, thus making a good teacher, I am afraid, you’ll only have a teacher. Schooling needs new life blood that only strongly motivated, passionate, brave educators can give, but those ingredients can’t be found on books, but in their hearts.


18 thoughts on “A Certain Something

  1. Well put . . . but, it’s not all on the teacher, is it? That would give them unnatural power over the behavior and responses of others.

    It’s nice to believe all can be reached and all can be made enthusiastic at the prospect of learning, but I don’t think that’s the case.

    So, then, is the enthusiasm of the few sufficient? Also, does one nurture the enthusiasm and those who have it, or does one double up on the ones resistant to learning, and perhaps short-change the others? Can one successfully do both?

    Not arguing for or against anything written; I’m just curious about it. Like, what’s the percentage of enthused students one needs to maintain a positive attitude? I imagine there’s a sense of failure associated with those who can’t (don’t want to) be reached, or is it enough to give one’s best and be content with having done so?

    I’m curious because I naturally want to teach others when presented with the opportunity (perhaps I’m just a meddler). Sometimes I think I would have enjoyed teaching and then think of all the ways it would frustrate me. Would reaching just a few be sufficient for me? I don’t know.

    Where do you plant the flag of satisfaction with one’s job and its outcome?

    • The age range of my students is 14 -19, so that means that I am with them for 5 years, from “I am, you are, he…..” to twentieth century English literature. In these years I see them evolving in a way or another. Some of them were born brilliant and autonomous. They would learn even if I were a dumb oak standing before them. It is a pleasure to help them reach their goals, of course, but the real challenge is to catch the interest of the others. Can I reach them all? Unlikely. Can I still be positive? Naturally. In all these years I have learnt that what could be considered a failure today may turn into a success tomorrow. A teacher must be patient, as learning times differ from student to student, hence ” failures ” are transitory and part of the job.

    • That was more to show the student no longer needing the teacher. That is the goal, I assume.

      But, yes, there’s a whole generation (or three) who’s gonna have major neck issues as they get old . . . and bad thumbs, too.

  2. Wow, You know dear Stefy? You are not only a fantastic good teacher but a genius thinker. can’t you clone yourself? 😉 then we’d have a much more promising future.
    anyhow I prise your way of thinking as high as I can imagine and I wish there were really more and more teachers like you. 💖👍🙏
    PS: the pic above, from the movie Dead Poets Society which I love so much. Thank you

  3. This isn’t the place to tell you this Stefania. But if I don’t I fear I’ll burst. Italy is the birthplace of my favourite television cop Inspector Salvo Montalbano aka Luca Zingaretti. Forgive me I had to tell you my secret. 😉 xx

  4. You are passionate about the things that matter, Stefy, and it looks as though your students are so very fortunate to have you as a teacher. If only all teachers could be as inspirational!

  5. You’re right that it’s not only subject knowledge that makes a good teacher. Here in the UK you have to study an extra year to become qualified as a teacher, and when I did this, several centuries ago, the course was about 50% child and development psychology — which I found both fascinating and incredibly useful — and 50% how to actually teach the subject knowedge you had. And this course was follwed in a higher education institution.

    Now we do it on the cheap, with most of the ‘training’ being on-the-job practice in a school. The psychology seems largely to go by the board, and the classroom practice is cheap replacement for teachers. How well you are served depends on the kind of school and the attitude of your mentor. We now have a situation where a large proportion of teachers leave the profession after very few years. Maybe they were unsuited in the first place, maybe demoralised by poor conditions but it’s an unspeakable waste of time and effort. Who suffers most? Probably the poor school students…

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