This wasn’t the blog post I was going to write next, but a small thing happened and it got me thinking about an issue that preoccupies me – namely how teachers are and feel rewarded. It’s not about ‘presenting’ exactly, but it’s related so I hope you will bear with me.
A couple of weeks ago I ended a talk to some young trainee teachers in Baden in Austria with a (true) story about a retired teacher I met. She was assigned to look after me when I went to the CLESOL conference in New Zealand a couple of years ago – and she did so admirably and kindly, for which I will always be grateful. However, she missed the conference dinner (or whatever the celebration was – I forget now) because she had been invited to a High School reunion for a class she used to teach some 20 years before. When I saw her the next day she was in a state (it seemed to me) of mild euphoria. Three students had told her independently that although she had been strict (and was slightly feared for this reason), they had thought her the best teacher in the school and just wanted to thank her for everything she had done for them all those years before. It was amazing, to me, how, twenty years on she had derived such pleasure from this encounter, and how much she had enjoyed receiving such an obviously well-deserved teacher ‘medal’.
And the reason I am blogging about this is that the same thing has just, more or less, happened to me. Now listen, you need to understand that I have had, like all teachers, my fair share of students complaining about me, or chemistry that didn’t work and other failures. So what follows is not meant to be boastful or self-aggrandizing, but rather just an experience, the kind of experience that all of us, if we are lucky, have from time to time, and from which we can and should derive pleasure, but which we should not think means anything beyond that one event…….
Last Sunday, out of the blue, I got an email from someone who I can dimly (but only dimly) remember. He had found my website. Part of his email read:
“Do you remember Eurocentre in Bournemouth – it must have been in 1975/6. You were my English teacher – and I can still see you with your long hair and your guitar. You were the greatest teacher I’ve ever had…….”
and of course I was high as a kite for hours (apart from the unwelcome reminder of my age!). And then of course I thought that Hansjürg, my ex-student, was probably crazy. But then I remembered what I had said about the lady from New Zealand. And all of this ties in with something I currently stress in a couple of presentations when I show a video of two teachers, Philip and Pip, watching film of each other teaching (click here to see it). My point when I show that film is to say how AMAZING it is to see two teachers who like and – more importantly – respect each other telling each other what good teachers they each are.
The problem, of course, is that praise for teachers – especially from respected colleagues – is a scarce resource. A lot of the time teachers work as if behind closed doors in front of an audience that can seem at times even hostile, but at other merely accepting. Rarely do we get the ‘you are a great teacher’ moments that Hollywood is so fond of showing (just check out the recent wonderful British film ‘An Education’ for a tear-jerking pupil-teacher relationship).
So my question is: where do teachers get medals from? What is it that should (and can) make teachers feel good about themselves and what they do? Is it the praise of the occasional student? Is it a batch of exam results showing how successful our teaching has been? Is it something to do with teachers who plan carefully and then use Action Research to measure and evaluate what they do? Perhaps you can only be genuinely rewarded as a teacher by some public acknowledgement. Or perhaps it’s just that feeling you get after a lesson that seems to have gone really well. Or (nearly finished!) it is the result of moving out of the ’comfort zone’, trying out new things, keeping ourselves fresh and engaged (technophiles have a great advantage here!)
I can’t tell which of these works. I enjoyed my ‘great teacher’ email, and I like watching Pip and Philip praise each other every time I see it. But what I DO know is that making teachers FEEL good should be a priority for any coordinator, director of studies or academic manager. For if teachers can be made to genuinely feel good about what they are doing not only will their lives be better, but their students will reap the benefit of that feeling in spades.
What do you think? What is it that makes teachers feel good, and what can academic managers do about it?