144. Overcoming the wall of hopelessness with passion and pride

(Originally published on The Himalayan Times – Perspective on May 8, 2016)

THT An Open Letter To Passionate Teachers

Dear passionate teachers,

When I was in Class VIII, we had an amazing teacher who taught us Physics. I used to wait for his class the way I would wait for momos to be served. He was tall and skinny. He was funny. He was warm. And, Physics made sense. However, he left the school after only three months. On his last class, we were in tears, he was in tears. I did not forgive him for a long time, for leaving us, for betraying us.

Now that I’m a teacher, I realize that teachers have the most unthankful job. We are the most obvious targets for every dark spot in the education system. And, many good teachers quit. I will never know why the Physics teacher left us but I am giving him all the benefits of doubt. May be he didn’t want to, but had to.

Bright teachers enter the profession with hopes to make a difference but end up quitting when they see the huge wall of hopelessness staring at them. For instance, many educational institutions don’t have proper induction system for new teachers. They are usually left stranded to figure out everything on their own. As a result, many never feel quite at home.

Likewise, many educational institutions have an irrational ‘fear’ of allowing their teachers to go for professional development. Most admins assume: If I let my teacher go for trainings, who’ll handle the class? After such trainings, the teacher will demand higher salary. Or, the teacher will join another school/college. As a result, teachers rarely get opportunities to grow and improve.

But, let me not blame the institutions only. A major chunk of the problem lies within us. Even when an institution supports our growth, many of us ‘chop our own foot with an axe’ by not preparing a personal and professional development plan. Year after year, we simply go into the classroom, teach the syllabus, and come out. We perform just enough to be in the safe zone.

A couple of reasons: first, we are teaching for the time being, and waiting for something else. May be a job at an NGO. May be a visa to fly abroad. Second, we feel we were the victims of the situation and ended up being a teacher. We never wanted to be teachers in the first place.

And, here’s my argument. If you are a teacher – by choice or by chance – you can always choose to conquer the wall of hopelessness and make a difference. For that we need two weapons: passion and pride.

You may not know if teaching is your life’s calling. But as long as you are a teacher, teach with passion. Every single time we go into the classroom, we can choose to spread happiness among students, sow hope, and share dreams. As one of my mentors said: students can smell your passion, and regardless of any subject you teach.

We must also walk with pride. Let’s say with conviction: I am a teacher and I make a difference. Let’s not scratch our head, give a fake smile, and pretend that you didn’t have a choice. Pride is contagious. With pride comes respect. Let’s restore respect into this noble profession.

Dear teachers, we can’t wait for someone else to do it. Here’s what I propose: Let’s build a community of passionate and proud teachers. Let’s empower each other so that we can destroy the wall of hopelessness. You might ask – how?

Start an online community on social media, ask teachers to join in and contribute their stories. Then, start an offline community. At the college I work, we’ve started a weekly session named “Empowering Fridays” where we welcome passionate teachers to share their methodologies, stories and insights. You too can join in. Or better, you can start similar support groups in your colleges and schools.

When teachers get involved in a community full of passionate and proud teachers, may be then bright teachers wouldn’t feel lost and aimless. May be then, students wouldn’t have to feel betrayed by their teachers.

Passionately yours,
Umes Shrestha