Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati
It was lunchtime but I didn’t mind. Neither did my German teacher.
I ran upstairs and entered her room. She was free – success! I pulled out my listening exam script: a set of learned responses to verbal questions that could come up in my GCSE exam.
I’m sure she was hungry and I’m sure she wanted lunch. I didn’t think about that when I was 16 years old. I probably should have.
She sat with me and helped me with my responses. Her dedication lunchtime after lunchtime was a major factor in the grade ‘A’ I achieved in the final exams. She went on to praise me publicly for my efforts and nominate me for a prestigious school award, which I won.
What makes some teachers go beyond the call of duty?
Not every teacher was like my German teacher, and understandably so. As teachers we work long hours and often give up parts of our weekends and school holidays for planning, marking and perfecting our work.
If I could write one phrase to describe my German teacher it would be this: She really cared.
That’s not to say that my other teachers didn’t care – they did. But my German teacher really cared.
The desire and drive within her to help one of her students had a profound effect on me – so much so that it acts as a huge reminder to me of the duty of care I have to my students today: almost two decades later.
How does ‘authenticity’ manifest itself?
I’ve been fortunate to receive wholehearted care from a number of great teachers in my life. I think their authenticity can be summed up in these main ways:
- They don’t just teach their subject: My best teachers tried to help me out with problems I was having in life, not just in my studies. When I broke up with my girlfriend, my Biology teacher gave me some great advice and told me not to let it bother me. “It’s her loss”, he said. When I came into school looking exhausted because I’d had no sleep the night before, a number of teachers expressed concern for me and asked how I was and recommended that I get some sleep. When I was pelted with snowballs and came into my Head of Year’s office crying, he put his hands on my ears to warm them up and helped me to calm down.
- They take their duty as ‘role models’ seriously: “There’s no such thing as an off-duty teacher” – words spoken to me when I was an NQT. I think those words are true. I never saw any of my teachers drunk or smoking, and even on my graduation evening when some teachers came out for a drink at a local restaurant with the students, they acted responsibly.
- They remember you after you leave: At high school reunions and when bumping into each other in the street, authentic teachers and former students talk with each other like it was yesterday. “How are you getting along, Richard”. “I’m doing fine”, I said. “I always knew you would be a success, you were always a very dedicated student”, my old physics teacher responded in 2006. That felt great. It was a reminder of who I was at my core, and a motivator to keep me on track for the future.
- They leave no student behind: I was in Year 10 when me and my classmates took a ‘formulae of ions’ test in Chemistry. About half of the class, including me, failed the test. To this day I still don’t know why that happened, but my Chemistry teacher just couldn’t let it go. She pulled aside all of us as a group, had a talk with us and made us resit the test the following week. On the second attempt, we all got above 80% (and it was an equally difficult test). Afterwards she said “Can you now see that the concept was really simple”. We all agreed.
- They give up some of their free time: I already know that this is not going to be a popular one with some of my readers, but it is true. Authentic teachers care so much about their students that they are happy to run classes or tutoring after school or at break and lunch times to help students out. They know that this dedication will pay dividends in terms of the rapport they are building and the results the students will get in the final exams. These payoffs are more valuable to them than their free time, which is very admirable.
What are the effects of ‘authenticity’?
Authentic teachers literally change their students’ lives. They realise that their influence doesn’t just last a day, or an academic year. They know that they are part of a mission to mold their learners into happy, responsible, good adults of the future.
There’s a saying that was used in a Teacher recruitment campaign in the UK in the early 2000s – No One Forgets a Good Teacher.
I would say that no one forgets an authentic teacher, because only authentic teachers can be good teachers.
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