Getting It Right:Challenges for a Teacher in the 21st Century – Daniel M. Khan, Assistant Professor, Political Science Department

To change the world, we have politicians, govt. employees, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers – a host of professions to pick and choose from. We also have ‘teachers’. Teachers to guide, train, educate and help choose a profession we love. But how much importance do we give to the profession of teaching? Do teachers know their roles effectively enough? 

Challenges for a Teacher in the 21st Century

“I am a teacher! What I do and say are being absorbed by young minds who will echo these images across the ages. My lessons will be immortal, affecting people yet unborn, people I will never see or know. The future of the world is in my classroom today, a future with the potential for good or bad. The pliable minds of tomorrow’s leaders will be molded either artistically or grotesquely by what I do…
Only a teacher? Thank God I have a calling to the greatest profession of all! I must be vigilant every day lest I lose one fragile opportunity to improve tomorrow.”

 – Ivan Welton Fitzwater

It is said that teaching as a profession makes other professions. Teachers play a unique role of preparing students to become worthy members of all professions in the world. They therefore shoulder a responsibility and opportunity to mould future generations. Teaching requires a lot of dedication and sacrifice and there are not many who have the calling to be teachers though there are people who join the profession for various reasons. Studies show that many people start teaching for idealistic reasons: to work with youth, to have a positive influence on others and to pass on what they know and care about. Teaching is not simply a profession; it is a vocation. Those who regard teaching as a vocation derive their identity from an inner motivation that allows them to shape their roles rather than merely occupy them. Research also shows that successful teachers conceive their work in broader terms than in the simple accomplishment of a function.

With globalization we see an emerging ‘global society’ driven by technology and communication developments. This ‘global society’ is shaping the students as ‘global citizens’ and intelligent persons with multi-skills and knowledge to apply to the competitive and information-based society. Teachers today find themselves in an education system in which they are no longer the sole ‘fountain of information’ but the facilitators and pointers towards information. The 21st century tech-savvy, multi-media, multi-tasking digital students come to school with very different sets of experiences and expectations.  Connecting with them, relating to them, and motivating them now require teachers who are open to new ways of teaching and supporting students.
What does all this tell us? If the world in which the students live has changed so dramatically, then the role of the teacher must change as well to prepare our students for the world of today and tomorrow to meet the needs of current culture. We need teachers who can not only survive but also excel in the present times.
“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.” Teaching is not simply a profession. As most teachers soon discover, there has been a long struggle in the professional world to gain respect for teaching. Professions are recognized by outside criteria. But there is an important difference between profession and vocation. People can conduct themselves professionally but may not consider their work a calling. Today, the effective teacher embraces interaction with parents, welcomes dialogue and building authentic relationships with all key members involved to develop classroom support for the students and her.  The effective teacher will have high expectations for student behavior and academic achievement, but since she has created authentic relationships, the students will work hard to meet and exceed those expectations. Ultimately teachers should reflect the same behavior that they expect from their students. The effective teacher should keep these thoughts in mind… Am I presenting the materials in a manner that is helping the students? Am I treating them the way I would want someone to treat my child? At the end of the day remember that they are still children, facing real problems in a tough world, so they need all the support they can get.
The challenging role of the teacher also includes reaching beyond the walls of the school. Presently, the school remains an isolated building that is disconnected from the world in which we are preparing students to live. Education is about making learning alive and relevant. Therefore, the teacher should not confine education to the classroom alone but connect it to the real world effectively utilizing the available technologies.
Leadership is about responsibility and action, not just title or position, and the teacher is the leader of her classroom, every teacher has the ability and the duty to be a leader in the school community. When the teacher has both the operational and interpersonal skills to complement her content expertise, she can step outside of the proverbial box and her comfort zone to be a leader in the educational community, influencing the culture of the school and school community.
Apart from all that, a teacher should be a person who is steadfast and not easily influenced by the pressures of society. She should have an unimpeachable character, integrity and fear of God, one who takes her calling seriously. In conclusion, I would like to highlight this quality of a teacher using a small illustration:
If you have one cotton ball and a plastic ball, and you drop these two balls into two different buckets containing dirty water, what do you observe? You will see that the cotton ball absorbs the dirty water and sinks to the bottom of the bucket, becoming indistinguishable from the dirt after some time. Whereas, the plastic ball floats on the surface of the water, retaining its shape and appearance, never absorbing the dirt from the bucket.
 Teachers need to be like the plastic ball: retaining our integrity in spite of living in a society with degrading values and morals. It is true that we cannot totally change or alienate ourselves from the society we live in but we can retain our goodness and pass on our legacy to our students so that the world will be a better place.
 Titus 2:7,8a. “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned…”
“Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. Tetso College is a Commerce and Arts College. For feedback or comments please email:” 

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