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h' EEPAVALI was celebrated a I lfew davs aeo.

This festival of l/ rgnts rievei r"ils to remind


me ofhow much teachers should Iive up to the fact that they are

calledguru, Befitting its Sanskrit meaning, a guru, like the deepcm (liglt) is a "remover of darkness". Therefore, teachers should enlighten. Recently, I received three e-mails from a group ofteachers undergoing their postgraduate diploma in teaching at a local university. I had given them a talk on action research but I was surprised to note that the buming question they all sought me to answer was this: "How can I become a better
teachet?" They all desired to be teachers who would be respected and remembered fondly by their students, ln view ofthe nationwide concem that the quality ofteaching in this country is in dire straits, I must say their question deserves a well-

'smart'teacher
determined by their race, qualifications or willingness to strive for the best of

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"How can I make the understanding ofthis material easier and more interesting for them?" "How can I help them become better learners and better people?" . ln otherwords, "How can I educate my students?" And, in tum, "How can I educate myselL)" Character is the backbone ofa
good teacher. A teacher with character responds to challenges by being
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thought out answer. Over the past 25 years, I have worked with, met and obserued scores ofgood, dedicated teachers but whenever talk tums to the subject of poor teaching, fingers inevitably get pointed at a teache/s race, level ofeducation or years of
teaching experience. Truth is, good teaching has more to do with a teacher's personality, charaa-ter, attitude, values, personal beliefs and intelligence than any-

and ability appropriate. Yet, they have a strong sense of"with-ir nesi" and caD spontaneously adapt their teaching to suit any new circumstance and situation that arises in the classroomI cannot count the number of times I had to "rise to the occa: sion" npidly and change (often on the spot) the kind ofstimuli I used to arouse and sustain interest. Sometimes, in the middle of a lesson, I would have to change tack and throw in a game or two (or change from teacher-student inter-

action to student-student interaction) simply because I knew the lesson was not generating interest. M

industrious, professional, ethical, diligent, just, honest and trustworthv. She knows teaching is a huge responsibility and she acts accordingly to.lead a principled life. Year afteryear, one ofthe things I strived for was to be a moral exemplar to my students. I use the word "strive" because it is far, far easier to preach than practise! When you realise that things are easier said than done, you also wake upto the fact that constant struggle and the resultant learning must be part ofa good teacher's make-up.
it; j:Thihking:and. r,efles.tiv.e.. Compared to a person's academic level of education, I respect intelligence more in a teacher. The reason is simple, A good teacher needs and uses crack of dawn to devour Reese and Campbell's BioloAy textbook for ALevels, just to be one step ahead of I realised years ago that my stu dents didn't care one bit what race I was or whether I had anyJavanese, Singhalese or Fuchow blood in my verns, All they cared for was this: Could I attract and maintain their attentiod and interest? Was I kind, helpful, just, concerned, a good listener and a person they could talk to? You are truly mistaken ifyou think the specific blend ofDNA you carry in your cells matters. What matters to them is who you ate as d person. lf you are car-

Master of the subject they

thing else. In my opinion, here is what it


takes to make a good teacher. I have used the acronym SMART lo exempliry the salient chdracteristics lhat I personally think make the crucial difference.
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It was John Milton cregory who said, 'The teacher must know that which he would reach. lmperfect knowing must be reflected in

gr:,sEulituredr.systematic; yet rjdq{rFiieorls and,rstimufidiilii:


Yes, a good teacher is an organised person. Her lessons are wellplanned, her preparation thorough and her teaching progresses from the simple to the complex and abstract. She is dwdre that reaching is her core business and she takes it seriously. I have, in fact, seen teachers teach with such aftention to detail that it is as iftheir lives depended on it! They are on the right track because they see teaching not onlv as a means oflivelihood, but as a

imperfct teaching". When a teacher of English can barely write a grammatically correct English essay herself, does it malter what race she is? lfa te;cher is trained to teach Physics but has no clear idea how the hydraulic systen works, does it matter to his students that he holds a Masters degree in Educational Management? If a Mathematics te.lcher still struggles to solve a challenging question on calculus in last yeais SPM paper, does it rratter lhat he's been teaching the subject for manV
years?

my students! I studied like crazy, prepared lresh workshects and learning mod ules, and became a student all over again. The tnlth is this - you really must know that which you teach! A - Affective : ln all the years I taught, my students responded with alacriry whenever I took the trouble to "affect" them positively. My personality mattered! Teachers have to be charming, Iively, interesting, fun, creative, interested, giving, engagrng, encouraging, warm. amiable, pleasant and a hundred orher things JUst to melt their students' hearts. Good teaching takes a lot out of you. Personally, I found teaching very rewarding yet intensely exhausting. Are your students "affected" by your teaching? Do you have a positive impact and "effect" on them? If teaching is all about bringing about positive change in the mind, emotion and will ofstudents, the teacher who has the "oomph" personality wins hands down.

ing, unprejudiced, understanding,


empathic and suppoftive, they appreciate your teaching.

ln contrast, students will appreciate the newly qualilled Chemistry graduate who knowq his subject well enough to teach them a unique way to remember the name of all the eiements that are more reactive than carbon. Take pride in being the master of the subject you teach and you secure the respect of your students. In my 1 6th year of tenching, I was asked to teach Form Six Biology. This was a huge leap frorn the Form Five Biology syllabus, which I knew like the b.tck of rny

will

profe;sion that needs and thrives


on passlon. Therefore, they make lt their business to teach well - teaching briskly, efficiently and in a businesslike manner. In their classes, they give clear presentations, speak clearly, are expressive and easily understood. They also use a wide variety of models, aids, examples and methods to ensure rrnderstanding ofthe material taught. Being performance orientated, they set academic tasks that are age

own hand. I remenber jicttinll up

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R.3 Rspoirsible:ihd'rdiponsive. The word "responsible" is about lhe ability lo respond. Good teachers respond to the professional demands set by their work, leaders, superiors, colleagues, students, situations and circumstances in a way that reflects their character. Primarily, they seek to understand first and then, respond to the real needs oftheir students. The good teacher alwavs asks questions such as: "What it is rhat mV students don't understand or

intelligence to reflect and think about her practices. She uses it to innovate, improve and develop as a professional. The tliinking, reflective teacher is one who spearheads true progress. By asking herseif constantly, "what works, and what doesn't?" and flne tuning her teaching methods, she is miles ahead of those who are in a teaching rut simply because they have stopped thinking abo*t how they, or their approaches can be changed or be modifled to improve matters. The reflective teacher will step away from mundane, routine wdys. Anytime. AnywhereIn the final summation, I am reminded ofthe courtroom scene in William Shakespeare's play The
Merchant of VeniceInit, this is what Portia famously said: 'The quality of mercy is not

the

find it difficult to rnderstand?"

strain'd, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes." I sometimes think she could well be talking about the quality of good teaching.