Willing your way to being a better teacher

One of my closest friends once told me, “To be a great teacher is a sheer act of will. We don’t reap the rewards of what we sow. We function because we have a will to believe”.

As I heard her talk, I started pondering what she intended to say. Don’t we reap the rewards every day in the smiles of our students? Is the triumph of a learner breakthrough not enough to be classified as a win in our books? I had always believed so.

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I commenced scrutinizing my teaching career minutely. I understood that although there are many highs in the life of a teacher, there are many lows too. The thrills never last as obstacles and challenges abound. Once a problem is solved, another raises its head. The process is endless. While this may sound like most professions you know of, remember that teachers never actually see or experience a culmination of their hard work. Yes, management may give you a pat on the back or a raise (hint hint). Colleagues may flock to you for advice and consider you the wise one of the circle. But, the ones we indeed do it for, the students, they’re gone in the blink of an eye.

Where does our hard work go?

When a person visits a doctor with a health problem, they are prescribed a particular medicine or procedure to alleviate their present condition.

I sometimes liken teachers to docs, evaluating students in our thoughts, sensing whether concerns are physical or in mind.

Would a placebo do? Or do we need to go down the path of remedial measures? Teachers do it every day, like patient physiotherapists- nurturing, guiding and taking hands firmly when the patient is about to falter. However, a doctor’s gratification when a patient is cured isn’t an option for us.

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The year begins, passes through its natural progression, and eventually ends. We never get to see our hard work take fruit. We often hear of students who go on to accomplish great things, and we have a sense of pride that we helped get them there (whether they remember it or not!). Unfortunately, we also get to learn of our greatest success stories reverting to their shells, becoming underachievers again, or troublemakers that won’t come to heel. Either way, once the students are out of your classroom, they’re out of your hands too.

Why is ‘will’ important?

You can look back on your teaching career in two ways-

  • Whatever you do with your students is fleeting. Your mistakes and successes don’t matter much because other influences in their lives will guide them towards becoming whoever they need to be.
  • What you do with your students is of paramount importance. The little things you say or do may stick with them and form who they’re going to be in some small way. Even if it doesn’t feel like it now, the ripple effect of YOU will be there within a soul who felt loved by you.

Suppose you choose the first option, it’s reasonable. Many teachers I know feel this way after being educators for many years. If you haven’t already burnt out, I’m sure you’re experiencing the struggle of your job daily. If you identify with the second option, I will ask you to reflect- what makes you get up every morning to take on impossible challenges? Complete with a smile on your face for 8 hours a day even though you feel like crying sometimes?

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It’s belief. Belief in yourself and others. You are willing to be a better teacher for someone other than yourself because you know that it will matter in the long run. It’s almost like you will yourself to be a better facilitator because you know you can! You believe in the influence you can have on others.

Every reward an educator can reap is intangible, clawed from beneath the surface of hardship and fatigue. 

You will your way to being a better teacher because you know that if you give up, thirty other little lives are going to give up too. You will your way to being a leader because you need to be the one to guide young lives on the right path. You will your way to being a defender for all because you know you’re the only parent some of them know. You will your way to going another day because you know- your will saves the day. Every day.

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