Respect for our teachers

Reading Mrs Chua Yen Ching’s story on The Straits Times and reading Facebook responses to this story provided much fodder for reflection. As someone who used to be with the Education Service, I know there is more to that which is reported. As much as I respect and admire Mrs Chua for her optimism and willingness to go the extra mile for her charges, my deepest respect and admiration is reserved for her tenacity. Anyone who has been a teacher and school leader would know the struggles, challenges, responsibilities and discouragement that come with the job. Yet, through it all, Mrs Chua managed to remain true to her cause and core, not allowing her environment or ‘reality’ to alter her course. This, to me, is the story worth celebrating, where strength of character made the difference.

As a society, I wondered if we could be more supportive of our teachers. With the population becoming better educated, more and more individuals feel that they are qualified to tell teachers how to do their job by virtue of them being students previously. It is almost as if being a patient qualified me to challenge the doctor’s diagnosis and tell the surgeon how the operation should be carried out. Respect for teachers and the work they do, not mentioning the sacrifices they made, is sorely lacking today. Sure, teaching might sound intuitive and simple, but it definitely isn’t. A keyword search on Google will fill you in very quickly on the complexities of teaching. Furthermore, if it were that simple, why do we need schools of education in universities all over the world running teacher training programmes? We could simply put anyone in front of a class and they should be able to cope?

Teachers are humans and they really can do with more grace and affirmation. Yes, there are many teachers out there who do not teach as well as we would like them to, whose values might not be compatible with ours and whose worldview is very different from us. And we need to ask ourselves, does that give us the right to treat them shabbily? Putting ourselves in their shoes, how would we like to be treated? Then we should perhaps do unto others that which we wish others would do unto us. I am not saying that teachers can do no wrong or that we should not right a wrong; what I really want to say is not everything a teacher does is wrong, and certainly not every matter is an issue of right or wrong. As a friend reminded me today, there is more than one way to skin a cat. If we want our young to learn respect and honour, as a community, we need to demonstrate such behavior. To respect and honour people who are deserving would take some effort, but would be very do-able; to respect and honour a person whom we do not think deserve respect and honour is the real challenge. For frankly, who are we to judge? How can we be sure that our judgement is definitely right? How about giving the other party the benefit of doubt?

Well, to be honest, all the above is easier said than done. I know just how hard it is to try and respect and honour some teachers and leaders; I have met enough of those that I continue to struggle to do both on a regular basis. However, I would like to believe that, in my idealistic way, that if we think positive thoughts and speak positive words to people, we would be able to encourage a positive response, and wouldn’t that be great?

Hmmm… I am really not sure, so I’ll just have to try.

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