Owed to teachers

They are among some of the most undervalued people in this society. Their earnings belie the important work they do – for the most part – and gratitude to them can sometimes be meagre and grudgingly given.

The saying, “[S]He who can, does; [s]he who cannot, teaches,“ is attributed to that famous wordy Irishman George Bernard Shaw, who it is said had an “irregular” education owing to his abhorrence of “organized training.” (If Shaw did coin the saying, then he must have had some of the worst teachers in the world, but thank goodness he had editors.)

This quote seems to imply that people, who for some reason or the other fail to make it at their chosen profession, turn to teaching as something to fall back on. Yes there are teachers for whom the profession was/is an option, and then there are the real teachers; the ones who never even contemplated doing anything else because imparting knowledge was all they ever wanted to do.

Anyone who deliberately chooses teaching as a career deserves the highest commendation and hopefully some of them received it yesterday during the observance of World Teachers’ Day. During yesterday there were two separate awards ceremonies for teachers sponsored by the competing telephone companies GT&T and Digicel, under the auspices of the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU). A press invitation from the GTU said the awards were to be made to its members who would have made outstanding contributions to the education system and the trades union movement.

Our local educators are only named individually in the news when their pupils/students excel at examinations and often, only the current teacher gets the kudos. Those who opened the child/children’s minds to learning; who built the foundation from nursery/kindergarten seldom receive even a passing mention.

When teachers forget their roles, as sometimes happens, the adverse publicity the profession receives is harsh, loud and often vituperative. Any form of abuse of children—whether physical, mental, emotional or sexual—ought to be condemned and in the strongest manner possible. When it occurs in the home or school setting as is very often the case, the further degeneration of society is a real concern. Teachers, just like the rest of us, are products of society.

Similarly, when a woman or a man takes on the responsibility of being parent, counsellor, carer, confidant and educator to upwards of 25 children five days a week for seven plus hours a day and does it well, we should not be stingy with praise, reward or remuneration for them. Strangely enough, although all politicians would have had some access to learning at some point—or so we’d like to assume—teachers’ remuneration is usually a side issue when they get on the hustings.

What is owed to teachers would make a very good ode to teachers. Slam poet and teacher Taylor Mali’s often quoted, misquoted and plagiarized piece “What Teachers Make, or Objection Overruled, or If things don’t work out, you can always go to law school,” adapted below, gives a hint.
Teachers can make children work harder than they ever thought they could.
Teachers can make a C+ feel like an Academy Award.

Teachers can make children sit through 40 minutes of library in absolute silence.
Teachers make children wonder.
Teachers make children question.
Teachers make children criticize.
Teachers make children apologize and mean it.
Teachers make children write.
Teachers make children read.
Teachers make a difference.
Teachers make every other profession possible.

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