We all have a beloved school teacher. But have you ever tried to see if you can find teachers to let them know how much their guidance meant to you? If you haven’t, you really should! Let me share a case study which will serve as a prick to reconnect with our roots. As she stood in front of her 5th-grade class on the very first day of school she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same.
However, that was impossible because there in the back row, drooping in his seat, was a little boy named Ibrahim. Mrs. Usha Kaul had watched Ibrahim the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he needed a bath. At the school where Mrs. Usha taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Ibrahim’s off until last.
However, when she reviewed his cumulative record card she was shocked. Ibrahim’s first-grade teacher wrote, ‘Ibrahim is a creative child with a happy go lucky nature. He does his school work neatly and is well mannered, he is a joy to be around.
His second-grade teacher wrote, ‘Ibrahim is an excellent student, well-liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.’ His third-grade teacher wrote, ‘His mother’s death has been hard on him.
He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest, and his home life will soon affect him adversely if some tangible steps aren’t taken. Ibrahim’s fourth-grade teacher wrote, ‘Ibrahim is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school activities. He remains isolated and experiences sudden emotional bursts.’
By now, Mrs. Usha realized the problem and felt bad for her prejudicial behaviour towards Ibrahim. She felt even worse when her students brought her presents on Teachers Day, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Ibrahim.
His present was awkwardly wrapped in the heavy, brown paper. Mrs Usha took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume.
But she muffled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and applying some of the perfume on her wrist. Ibrahim stayed after school that day just long enough to say, ‘Mam, today you smelled just like my mother used to.’
After the children left, Mrs Usha cried for at least an hour. From that day Mrs Usha paid particular attention to Ibrahim. She treated him as her own son. She brought a new pair of uniform and shoes for Ibrahim. She used to wash the dirty uniform of Ibrahim and ironed it at her home, many times she served him her own lunch and survived that day on just a glass of water. She also conducted remedial teaching of Ibrahim at her home in Batyar Ali Kadal.
One day Ibrahim was not feeling well, he complained of breathlessness. Mrs Usha took him to Chest Disease Hospital at Dalgate for medical consultation. She used to sew the torn buttons of students, always carrying thread and needle in her purse.
As she worked with Ibrahim, his mind seemed to evolve. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Ibrahim had become one of the smartest children in the class. A year later, she found a note under her door from Ibrahim telling her that she was the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.
Six years went by before she got another note from Ibrahim. He then wrote that he had finished high school, securing third position in the State Board of School Education, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in life. What great joy can a teacher feel than to witness a child’s success.
When the untapped potential of a student meets the liberating art of a teacher, a miracle unfolds. Due to turbulent times in the valley in 1990 Mrs Usha migrated to Jammu. There she lived a miserable life in a make-shift tent but continued to teach children.
The day she left valley Ibrahim wept bitterly. He said he has become an orphan second time. But he remained in touch with her school teacher. There was a regular correspondence between the two. Ibrahim completed his doctorate and became an agricultural scientist.
He was going to get married, he wrote a letter to his teacher and explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was longing if Mrs. Usha might agree to sit at the wedding in a place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.
Of course, Mrs. Usha did that despite her falling health and old age. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing that Ibrahim had gifted her in school on Teachers' Day. They hugged each other, and Dr. Ibrahim whispered in Mrs. Ushas’s ear, ‘Thank you, Mam, for believing in me.
Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference. Mrs. Usha, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, ‘Ibrahim you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference.
I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.’ Few years later Mrs Usha was admitted in a hospital in critical condition. Ibrahim took the flight and reached the hospital. He served his teacher there in the hospital for 10 days. Her blessed soul got liberated in the lap of his cherished student who participated in the cremation rites as was desired by his teacher.
This case study amply demonstrates that a teacher affects eternity; he [or she] can never tell where his influence stops. This case study shall help us to highlight the important attributes of a good teacher.
What are the most important attributes of a good teacher?
One of the most important qualities of a teacher is compassion. Let’s understand this quality through an example. Imagine you are in your classroom and there’s a student who continuously performs poorly in his/her exams. You advised them to study and yet, they keep on getting low marks. Now, it’s natural for you to get angry because, despite your efforts, the kid is not performing well. However, you don’t know what’s going on inside them and what kind of conditions they are going through. What if the kid is facing issues with their family or if they have a learning disability? As a teacher, you need to put yourself in their situation and think like your student. This is what empathy is. You must understand the student and be available.
While talking about the good qualities of a teacher, communication skills cannot be missed. When the teacher assumes a strict and harsh role and the communication becomes one-way, there’s not much learning involved. Neither for the student nor the teacher. Communication need not always be verbal the teacher will have to pick up non-verbal cues and that’s where the real qualities of a teacher gets tested.
3. Interpersonal skills
Interpersonal skills and communication skills are closely related to each other. How well you communicate with your students and their parents will determine the nature of your connection with them. For example, it is not just their education that matters. It is their behaviour, their manners, their attitude, and a lot more aspects as well.
4. Impartial and unbiased attitude
A teacher has to treat all her students equally. Fairness is one of the most important qualities of effective teachers. When a teacher is fair-minded, it earns them respect and students feel safe and valued in the classroom. Creating a classroom environment that’s fair will nurture trust and respect between students and teachers
A small pat on the back can go a long way. Teachers need to be rewarding and have to acknowledge the little efforts of their students. When teachers say “well done”, “good job” etc., and reward students with a good word of encouragement, it motivates them to do better and makes them better teachers. Hence, when the question of what are the most important qualities of a good teacher, comes up, this quality cannot be missed.
6. Active empathetic listening
Quite often, students want someone to listen to them. You can be a great teacher only when you understand what your students need and in order to understand what they want; you have to listen. Active listening is one of the most important qualities of an ideal teacher.
A nurturing teacher promotes a healthy classroom. There’s enough room for opinions, feedback, and mistakes. Students often need someone to talk to them through their problems and mistakes. When teachers get harsh on them, there are chances of students acting out. When a teacher is nurturing, the students feel safe, which increases respect between students and the teacher. If students have behavioural or social disabilities, a nurturing teacher can help them a lot.
Righteousness is the ornament of knowledge. Students look up to their teachers and industriousness is one of the important qualities that students need. Honesty towards the work that you do, towards your students and colleagues is extremely important. Honesty is often a package, it comes along with qualities such as responsibility, courage, and reliability.
Being on time and sticking to schedules and timetables are among the most needed qualities of an ideal teacher. Students learn from you and in order to instil a sense of punctuality in them, you have to live by it. This quality reflects your responsibility and commitment to your profession.
11. Willingness to Learn
Teaching and learning go hand in hand. A good teacher never stops learning. With the education sector changing every day, teachers need to learn and upskill themselves.
12. Organization skills
This quality helps teachers to stay punctual and disciplined. Organization and planning are extremely important qualities of a good teacher. Imagine putting all the keys in one box without labelling them. Your house keys, locker keys, car and bike keys, everything in one big box. If you were running out in a hurry and were searching for your keys, imagine how much time you would spend finding the keys. Instead, if they were labelled and kept separately, it would have been easier for you. The same applies to your teaching job. If you are organized and planned, it helps you be on time and finish your lessons. This is an unavoidable characteristic of teaching.
Ethics is a standard set of values and beliefs that teachers should follow. Ethics is what tells us what is right and wrong and keeps us away from doing things that are wrong. It is against a teacher’s ethics to be unfair to students and to show partiality to students.
Respect for humanity is of utmost importance. Since learning starts with teachers, it is very important for teachers to respect everyone regardless of their gender, status, caste, and creed. There’s no room for judgment and bias. This is one of the characteristics of teaching that sets teachers apart.
Dr Showkat Rashid Wani, Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir