Tuesday, 24 February 2009


“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” - John Cotton Dana

This afternoon I had a visit from an old student of mine, who was in my classes about 20 years ago. She had seen my name in our College’s website and as she was in the City she came and visited. It was rather good that I still remembered her (having taught several tens of thousands of students over the years it is difficult to remember each and every one of them!). It was also rather touching to be told that she still remembered my lectures with fondness and that she had kept all her lecture notes, which she still referred to. We had quite a long chat and it was pleasing to hear that she had made good progress in her life, had travelled, worked in several of the large hospitals in Melbourne and also has a clinic of her own.

Teachers tend to do what they do concentrating on the tasks at hand and often forget the degree of influence they can have on people’s lives many years hence. A good teacher can turn around a young mind and plant a seed in it that will blossom and fruit in the future. Sometimes teachers can have even a greater influence than a child’s home environment and a few well-spoken words at the appropriate time can make a student’s mind awaken and strive for knowledge. A smile of encouragement, a few extra minutes explaining something, or listening to what the student has to say can make all the difference in the world to someone whose mind is just ready for its great adventure into knowledge.

Teaching in primary school is of course very different to teaching in secondary school and then again teaching in a tertiary setting is a different kettle of fish altogether. I have taught in all settings, primary and secondary while I was still studying at university and then for the major part of my working life teaching as part of being an academic at a university. I must say that enjoyed teaching at all levels, but the greatest satisfaction for me was the teaching at university. I found this the most stimulating and the most challenging. I had to deal with adults whose mind had gelled, whose preconceptions and opinions and personalities were very strong and where in order to impart some knowledge I had to win over the person first.

One gets to meet all sorts of students at university, the good ones, the bad ones, the indifferent ones. The ones who want to be there, the ones who wish they weren’t. The introverts, the extroverts, the studious types, the party-goer types, the conformists and the non-conformists. The nerds and the jocks, the sporty ones and the bookworms. The dowdy and the flashy ones, the leaders and those whom they lead, the honest ones and the cheats, the achievers and the failures. A microcosm of the society they soon will be part of. One’s task as educator in dealing with such diversity in one’s class is so difficult, but also satisfying at the same time. The thrill of getting the class involved in active discussion, seeing those mental cogs turning and engaging, hearing the nascent thoughts being articulated, witnessing that spark of understanding in their eyes, there’s nothing like it!

In my new job I do not teach any more, but rather have a role that fosters good teaching and learning in our institution. This is even more challenging and I guess it is now a step beyond what I was doing previously – meta-teaching if you like. Inspiring the teachers to teach better so that the students learn better. A whole new set of strategies and a new set of problems to resolve. I am enjoying this also, but also fulfilling is the planning and the strategic goal setting, the macro view of the organisation I am part of. The development work that needs to occur on a national level is something I take pleasure in greatly too. Quite exciting! I guess you can tell I’ve always enjoyed doing my job!
What are your own memorable experiences in education, either as a student or as a teacher?

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