Teachers vs Instructors*

b4_3d_back_to_school_09_06_tnsOne of the most unpleasant tasks of being a parent is attending parent-teacher conferences. I completely understand the pedagogy and philosophy behind the need for such uncomfortable interactions but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed the experience one bit – and my daughter even less.

Quite frankly, I don’t think such parent-teacher interactions conducted with the children present do the self-esteem of a child any good, especially under the system that my daughter’s school at the time in India and the one she graduated from in Bangkok, insisted on having. In most other schools we’ve been to, parent-teacher conferences are exactly that, and conversation between parents and teachers without the presence of the child / student. Here I have to agree more with the German system where the “Elternabend” is strictly for parents only, allowing for more freedom of expression and dialogue. It also gives the parents an opportunity to get to know each other better, which is extremely necessary since our children spend ample time in each other’s houses and company. Mind you, I’m not the only parent who found the approach of this school to parent-teacher conferences peculiar.  The way it is designed it is tantamount to public humiliation of the child, nothing more and nothing less. Everyone else waiting in line or sitting at the next table can overhear each and every word, there is absolutely no privacy.

b4_3d_back_to_school_09_06_tnsI squirmed at each occasion, not because I don’t like what I hear but because I dislike this berating of my daughter in front of me. If I wanted to scold my daughter I will do it in the privacy of my home, thank you very much. If the teacher wants to scold my daughter for something, he or she is most welcome to do so in school in private, that is between the two of them and none of my business. I truly fail to understand the benefit of the teacher putting down the child in front of the parent. I always fumed rabidly at my daughter after a parent-teacher conference until I realized it’s the way the darn things was designed that was to blame. It’s reached the point that if I could have skipped the entire event altogether I most certainly would have, no ifs and buts about it. I am so glad this doesn’t exist at the university level anymore.

I got so fed up of listening to the same message over and over – my daughter is talented and brilliant but doesn’t put in enough effort and is disorganized, oh yes, and her mind wanders. Yes, I know that, and they know that, but isn’t it also the role of the teacher to TEACH organization or to turn the tables around and make it work for her somehow? They can’t expect a brilliantly creative mind on eternal odysseys to suddenly wake up one day and be perfectly organized and do everything by the book – that goes against the very fibre of who the person is, especially my daughter.

b4_3d_back_to_school_09_06_tnsUnder the nightmarish educational system many schools insist on implementing, it is very easy to filter out the teachers from the instructors. The instructors take hold of the curriculum, lecture the material to the students, give them the assignments, grade it, and at the end of the semester dish out the corresponding grades. There is no guidance, attempt to understand the student individually and help him or her if there is a problem. The only time you will hear from them is during the parent-teacher conferences and the litany of complaints is recited. Don’t tell me what your (the instructor) problem is with my daughter, what I want to hear is what have you done to help my daughter correct her mistakes and improve her performance. Let me tell you, all the PhDs and M.A.s in the world do not a TEACHER make. Just because a person is highly qualified doesn’t make them good teachers. In fact, in the hands of an unsympathetic and heartless instructor, a student can easily meet his/her downfall and be scarred for life in certain subjects. I often wonder how many of the instructors loaded with fancy degrees even have pedagogy and education units under their belts, even basic youth psychology would help! Somebody should make this a universal requirement for all instructors before employing them in a school.

A teacher, on the other hand, makes and extra effort to get to know the student individually, find out what makes him/her tick, and how best to make the child’s god-given talents work to the student’s advantage. Over and beyond the call of duty to instruct and meet the curriculum requirements, a teacher knows when and why the student is faltering or struggling and intervenes at that precise moment, not wait on the sidelines until the issue has escalated into a problem. A teacher doesn’t penalize the child for mistakes against, instead he or she turns it around into a learning experience and an opportune moment to impart pearls of wisdom. It is not just about correcting mistakes, it’s about nurturing a spirit.

The same is true about parenting. Do you instruct your children or do you teach them?

*I originally published this on my former blog almost three years ago to date 

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