Today was my students’ final exam in physics. With the exception of two absentees, all my kids were in the same room, working diligently away at their responses, while I walked the aisles doing the invigilating-teacher thing.
Maybe it’s the season, but it hit me that I really care about these kids. I want them to do well on the test. Like a parent looking in on his sleeping children, I had the chance to watch my students in a rare quiet moment, without the added responsibility to lead the class and keep them alert.
Some of my students are brilliant, and given a few additional years of coursework, could probably teach me something about physics. Others have a really tough time with the subject. And there are a few who are just plain incorrigible, who with the right attitude, could probably run rings around the rest of us.
I care for all of them, and this feeling is what sets really good teachers apart from those teachers who just show up to collect a paycheck. If I ever start to not care about my kids on an academic (or a personal) level, it will be time to find another line of work. Without some emotional connection between teacher and students, I doubt any real learning can take place.
Schools should be like close-knit neighborhoods. They should be small enough for teachers and students to develop some sense of what makes the other “tick.” Fortunately, I have spent the last 20-odd years teaching in such an environment. My total class load is only a little larger than that of a typical elementary school teacher’s, so I have had the luxury of seeing my students as more than a name or number in a roll book. I get to see the person behind the academic performance.
I have participated in several online discussions about teachers’ pay levels and about educational policy in general. Too often, it seems that those who deny raising teacher pay would be beneficial or who attempt to quantify student (and teaching) performance with fill-in-the-bubble tests entirely ignore the emotional aspects of teachers and learners spend so much time together. To these critics, teaching kids is like assembling cars or working a desk job; from that perspective, teachers’ pay is adequate once you adjust for actual days on the job. To them, teaching is just a numbers game; the end product (test scores) is more important than fostering any love of learning or respect for the subject.
Caring for one’s students as individuals is not, unfortunately, quantifiable. Students (and some observant parents) can sense when a teacher cares for his or her students, but that sense is hard to communicate to administrators and policy makers. There is no reliable test that can measure whether a teacher can establish or maintain such a caring attitude. It’s an emotional response that can only be acquired through experience. In other words, a teacher can have all the creds in the world, but if he or she is a cold fish in class, that person cannot be really effective as a teacher. Emotional bonds (as long as they don’t get too intimate!) are a necessary aspect of effective teaching.