Teachers​—Why Do We Need Them?

“Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.”​—Japanese proverb.

DO YOU recall a teacher who really impressed you at school? Or if you are still a student, do you have a favorite teacher? If so, why?

A good teacher instills confidence and makes learning a fascinating challenge. One 70-year-old from England remembers with affection his English teacher at his school in Birmingham. “Mr. Clewley made me aware of abilities I did not know I had. I was shy and retiring, and yet he coached me to appear in the school drama competition. In my final year, I won the drama prize. I could not have done it without his encouragement. Too bad I never saw him in later years to thank him for his dedication to his students.”

Margit, a pleasant woman in her 50’s, from Munich, Germany, says: “There was one teacher I was especially fond of. She had a fine way of explaining the more complicated things in a simple manner. She encouraged us to ask questions when we couldn’t understand something. She was not aloof but, rather, friendly. That made classes more enjoyable.”

Peter, an Australian, remembers a mathematics teacher who, as he said, “helped us to see the relevance of what we were learning by giving practical examples. When we were studying trigonometry, he showed us how to measure the height of a building without even touching it, just by using the principles of trigonometry. I remember saying to myself, ‘Now that’s really something!’”

Pauline, from northern England, confessed to her teacher: “I have a hard time with numbers.” He asked: “Would you like to do better? I can help you.” She continues: “Over the next few months, he gave me extra attention, even helping me after school. I knew that he wanted me to succeed​—that he cared. Knowing this made me work harder, and I improved.”

Angie, from Scotland, now in her 30’s, recalls Mr. Graham, her history teacher. “He made history so interesting! He related the events as a story and was really enthusiastic about each subject. He made it all come alive.” She also recalls with affection Mrs. Hewitt, her elderly first-grade teacher. “She was kind and caring. One day in class, I went to ask her a question. She swooped me up in her arms. She made me feel that she really cared about me.”

Timothy, from southern Greece, expressed his appreciation. “I still remember my science teacher. He changed forever the way I would look at the world around me and at life. He created an atmosphere of awe and wonderment in the classroom. He instilled in us a passion for knowledge and a love of understanding.”

Ramona, from California, U.S.A., is another example. She writes: “My high-school teacher loved English. Her enthusiasm was so contagious! She made even the difficult parts seem easy.”

Jane, from Canada, spoke enthusiastically about a physical education teacher who “was full of ideas for fun and learning. He took us to the great outdoors and introduced us to cross-country skiing and ice fishing. We even made bannock, a type of Indian bread, over a campfire that we’d built ourselves. All of this was a wonderful experience for an indoor girl who normally had her nose in her books!”

 Helen is a shy lady who was born in Shanghai and went to school in Hong Kong. She recalls: “In fifth grade I had a teacher, Mr. Chan, who taught physical education and painting. I was slight of build and was very poor at volleyball and basketball. He did not embarrass me. He let me play badminton and other games for which I was better suited. He was considerate and kind.

“Likewise with painting​—I was no good at painting objects or people. So he let me paint patterns and designs, for which I had more of a flair. Because I was younger than the other students, he convinced me to stay in that grade for another year. This was a turning point in my schooling. I gained confidence and progressed. I will always be grateful to him.”

Which teachers seem to make the biggest impact? William Ayers answers in his book To Teach​—The Journey of a Teacher: “Good teaching requires most of all a thoughtful, caring teacher committed to the lives of students. . . . Good teaching is not a matter of specific techniques or styles, plans or actions. . . . Teaching is primarily a matter of love.” So who is the successful teacher? He says: “The teacher who touched your heart, the teacher who understood you or who cared about you as a person, the teacher whose passion for something​—music, math, Latin, kites—​was infectious and energizing.”

Without a doubt, many teachers have received expressions of appreciation from students and even parents and have thus been encouraged to continue teaching in spite of setbacks. The common denominator of so many of these remarks is the genuine interest and kindness shown by the teacher toward the student.

Of course, not all teachers take such a positive approach. Then, too, teachers are often subject to many pressures that curtail what they can do for their students. This leads us to the question, Why do people go into such a difficult profession?

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“Teaching is primarily a matter of love”