The thanks that show it's all been worth it

1st February 2008 at 00:00
I want to speak on behalf of teachers who feel undervalued. This article is intended as a pick-me-up for those in the profession who are jaded and worn out by constant criticism, a poor press, badly behaved pupils and endless paperwork.

Teachers build special, lasting relationships with pupils. Parents, of course, have a huge bearing on how a pupil will develop and grow. But many people will agree that teachers are one of the biggest influences on their lives. I want to concentrate on the enduring legacy of the good teacher.

The Training and Development Agency for Schools' advertising's slogan, "Everybody remembers a good teacher", the series "My Best Teacher" in the TES Magazine, and films such as Goodbye Mr Chips emphasise the importance and reverence afforded to that special teacher.

They take little acorns and they flourish into oaks, but what is it that starts the process? How is that spark nurtured and why does it happen? Teachers have - or should have - a love of their subject which they seek to transmit to their pupils. The relationship must be based on mutual trust.

Small interactions - eye contact, praise, supportive written comments, and saying "hello" in corridors - help to strengthen the bond. I believe the human touch too, as distinct from the subject touch, is important. Don't hesitate to help with a pupil's personal problems because this strengthens that special relationship.

Counselling, advising and listening in a non-judgemental way also help. A teacher ought to be able to recognise the buddinginterest a pupil may be taking in his subject and should actively encourage it.

Whatever the magic formula is, it takes time to grow. But once there, it is as if that teacher is perched on the pupil's shoulder, guiding them into a growing love of the subject. The pupil does not want to let down that inspirational teacher. Soon you can almost reach out and touch the maturing, mutual respect. The pupil wants to emulate you and be as good as, or even better, than you at the subject. The teacher possesses what the pupil wants and the pupil thinks it is worth aspiring to.

This is where I believe teachers should feel especially valued. Among all the negative factors that demotivate them, there will eventually emerge those one-to-one interactions that lead to lasting relationships. These endure in the pupil's mind and influence them for the better until their dying day.

It is this, more than anything that should be a major recruitment tool for teaching. If you are starting your career, try to focus on this when the going gets tough. Nothing can compare to that warm feeling that is so apparent when a successful pupil returns to the school to thank you, tell you about his or her qualifications, and says it was you who inspired them.

Jim Goodall is a retired science teacher from Torfaen.

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