Teachers aren’t gods. They don’t have to be. And it’s absolutely normal. After all, teachers are simple people, just like everyone else. With a whole variety of emotions, needs, wishes and worries that people usually experience occupying a particular role in the society.
It didn’t occur to me back then in middle school (nor did it in high school) that teachers had to do their errands after classes just like anyone else. And though I watched my father (a math teacher) doing his daily routine every evening (cleaning the cow barn, feeding the cows, cleaning the swine barn, feeding the swine, cleaning the rabbits’ cages, feeding the rabbits and so on), it never dawned on me that all other teachers in the village did the same. Completely the same. Some of them had even more swine, and rabbits, and cows, and hens, and roosters, and fields to sow and plow. But I didn’t notice it then.
For me, a teacher was a role model. I was frantically absorbed by the myth of the hero teacher. Even more than that. A teacher was someone who could never do anything wrong. A person who didn’t have the right to make mistakes.
Why did I feel the hierarchy (almost physically)?
It was only until recently that the image of a teacher was drastically different from what we observe today, especially in the post-Soviet countries. There was a statement quite often used by some of my teachers at school and later at college:
Only God knows the subject so well as to have an A. A teacher, then, can give an answer worth a B. And a student can hardly perform at a grade level of C, not higher.
We, students, were told that a B was already a great achievement (but why did I get a B?!) And it seemed to us that our knowledge was never enough for an A level. The teacher-student hierarchy was profoundly established in my mind.
The model has been changing with time and it is now more personality-centered. The new generation of teachers is trying to create a non-hierarchical learning environment.
Teachers aren’t customer service representatives either. They are not meant to please students and they don’t owe anyone a flawless experience.
Here’s why teachers aren’t perfect
My overall teaching practice lasted for 43 weeks (scattered between 2007 and 2015) and started at the pedagogical college.
That’s when I understood clearly: teachers are not ideal. They can make mistakes, and it’s natural. And here’s what I learned during my pedagogical practice:
You learn from your own mistakes
My first reading lesson in primary school was literally a nightmare: kids were running around their desks, some of them having tantrums over nothing, others were just throwing books at each other, screaming so hard I could barely hear my thoughts. I started yelling at them. I went pink and then red and my voice broke with each word. My last endeavor to make them calm down was to threaten them.
And so I tried (poor thing), a naive 17-year-old girl hoping for the better. I managed to get the attention of 3-4 kids and with a severe look on my face (at least, I hoped I looked so) I warned them that if they hadn’t stopped, I would go to the headmaster of the school and complain about their behavior. Did it work? Not in the slightest. They were insolently laughing and enjoying me being outraged but completely helpless.
What did save me was the return of their head teacher. She didn’t have to do anything: she just walked in and they stopped. They sat obediently and so innocently looking. And for a moment, the silence made me feel awkward and ashamed. Almost 15 minutes I couldn’t do what she did in 2 seconds. They had respect for her. I, on the contrary, was merely their perfect chance to skip a routine class.
But what did I do wrong? On my way home, I was analyzing every minute of the lesson, my words, body language and everything I should have done but failed. I simply had to get their attention. How? Attention grabbers and non-verbal cues. An appeal to children’s senses works unquestioningly in most cases.
Some teachers sing or use games to get students’ attention. Sometimes, it’s more effective to try free educational resources to encourage positive behavior.
Lack of time
You prepare materials
I was always pressed for time. Only weekends were less busy, but still I had to plan everything beforehand and count the hours I had to spend preparing materials for each lesson.
With laptops and interactive boards that teachers are having now (not in every school, of course), there’s no need to print out pictures and hang them on the blackboard like we were used to. No rush drawing and then cutting out a figure of a pig or a bear. But still, everything takes time. Teachers spend hours just looking for the needed information, planning creative activities. They prepare tons of materials and manage to do everything to make each and every lesson properly organized.
Before my practice, I had plenty of college courses like Instructional Methods of Mathematics, Instructional Methods of English, Instructional Methods of Music, Instructional Methods of Physical Training and other instructional methods for each subject taught in primary school.
I recall the nights when my roommate and I were making visual aids for the above classes. Numbers from 0 to 9 made with peas halves for Mathematics, a stencil with the alphabet for Fine Art, an “all seasons” clock for Nature Study, notes made of buttons on a staff for Music and many more.
Anxiety and Timidity
You find confidence and get mentorship
It was my first practice that required me to conduct all lessons in primary school. I was extremely nervous. But when I met the head teacher of the class, it became even worse. I couldn’t explain myself freely. I stuttered and looked like a silly little girl lost in the shopping mall having to ask at least somebody to help her find her mommy.
The head teacher was strict and severe-looking. She was polite, but nothing more. I was returning to the college dorm and tears were running down my face. There was so much to be done: lesson plans, research, tons of documentation papers to fill in.
I was so anxious that I wouldn’t manage to do everything in time. But all my worries and concerns were weakening in inverse proportion to the days spent in school and the number of lessons conducted. The head teacher became my mentor and helped me with everything. She taught me to keep calm and stay confident in any situation.
Status of teachers in the society
Gradually, I found myself in a complex emotional entanglement. Who are teachers? Who are they supposed to be? Now I know that teachers sometimes quit and I know why; they lose their way, but they find it eventually and try to be better, work harder and develop their potential as well as leadership skills. There’s always room for improvement. And now, I know perfectly well what gigantic contribution teachers make for the growth of collective intelligence. But sadly, with time, their role seems to be underestimated.
Maryna Toryshchak is an ESL tutor, linguist and freelance writer from Ukraine. She is an avid reader, passionate about poetry and languages. Follow her on Twitter.