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  • Simon Sakala

The Paradox of the Teaching Profession.


The teaching profession is the greatest profession on the planet. Period. There is no profession, including the teaching profession itself, that can come into existence without the involvement of a teacher of some sort. Notwithstanding, the value of a teacher is never fully appreciated because there is no way of measuring the total contribution of any effective teacher either qualitatively or quantitatively. This is so because the contribution a teacher makes is like that a river source does. The river source produces the water incessantly. Yet, it has no idea what course the river takes, how many people, animals and plants will drink of its water along its course. It also has no way of knowing how many boats, canoes, rafts and other vehicles will ride on it. Besides, there are a million other benefits from the river such as hydroelectricity generation, irrigation and so on to communities and nations there would never happen if the source were blocked. When the teacher receives a student, say in the first grade, the teacher has no idea whether that kid will grow up into a Kenneth Kaunda, Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Gates, Dambisa Moyo, Elon Musk or any other such influential personality that will end up making immeasurable contribution either directly or/and indirectly by further influencing other influencers. As a teacher of children, I always bear this fact in mind and thus I treat each child like I am dealing with the future president or any other such personality. I take all children very seriously. If you take a moment to reflect, you will probably remember some teachers that left some indelible mark on your life and the lives of others. For instance, there are some good habits that you possess that you can point to very specific teacher that taught you in primary school. Paradoxically, teachers are the most under compensated professionals in most parts of the world, despite the fact that most work very long hard hours. In most societies nobody expects teachers to become rich teaching, including teachers themselves. Thus, the common expressions such as “teachers get humble salaries.” Doctors, lawyers, accountants have society’s permission to become rich but not teachers. And yet these other professionals could not become the professionals they became without teachers. The major culprit of the discrepancy is the society’s perception of the difference between the value of a teacher and those of other higher paying professions. In most societies, It is generally perceived that it is easier to become a teacher than it is to become other higher paying professionals. College entry requirements for the high paying professions are higher and periods of study are longer and more demanding. On the contrary, college entry requirements for teacher training colleges are lower, periods of study shorter and less demanding In fact, in most cases, like my own case, people take up teaching as the last resort, after failing to become what they really wanted to become. And they sustain or validate the low perception by doing the minimum they can to become and remain a teacher. Finland has one of the highest standards of education in the world. The main reason is that teachers are very highly valued and respected. Their jobs are esteemed highly, hold huge responsibility and are stable and teachers are rarely fired because they are protected by powerful teachers’ union which is very influential. The teacher’s salary ranks amongst the highest in the country. Therefore, teachers are very motivated. The flip side of the coin is that the teaching career is prestigious, long, very demanding and is reserved for the most talented and hard-working. Admission to universities is very selective at only twenty percent of all applicants. A master’s degree in education is required, thus it takes at least five years to complete teacher training college. Trying to imitate Finland is most probably a pipedream in most cases. However, I think there is a middle of the road approach to the issue of raising the prestige of the teaching profession in any environment. Most of the weight of the solution lies in the hands of the teachers past, present and future. Raising prestige lies in first raising the personal value of a teacher. The personal value of a teacher is how much value is inherent in the teacher that can be transferred to the learner. As it is common sense that you cannot give what you do not have, the key lies in increasing what you have in your hands which you can give. In order to increase value in the hands, the teacher has to transform herself (and himself) into an entrepreneur by developing the following habits. 1. The habit to learn. The effective teacher is a student first. We live in a fast changing world in which it is possible for students to be ahead of the lazy, outdated teacher. To avoid getting outdated and being left behind, the teacher has to do everything possible to be a source of new knowledge and inspiration to the students. 2. The habit to be resourceful. The solution to the problem of lack of resources is being resourceful. A resourceful teacher is a great asset because she is able to inculcate the entrepreneurial mindset which is very vital in this age into the students. 3. The habit to upgrade. The effective teacher takes pride in raising the prestige of the profession by constantly upgrading the achievement standards. She sets the standard too high there is no way of getting there without constantly working upwards. Ninety nine percent pass rate is not good enough. It has to be one-hundred percent. 4. The habit of gratitude and value appreciation. The effective teacher appreciates value given by students, parents, administration, community and expresses gratitude at every opportunity. When this habit is passed on to the student, the teacher will benefit after the students leave if they leave with that habit. One of the reasons why some professions such as law and medicine are very rewarding is because lawyers’ and doctors’ help is appreciated immediately. There is an immediate and direct correlation between the service and the benefit. The benefit of the teaching profession to the student on the other hand is always very far away down the road, therefore not immediately appreciated. It takes a very long time for the results to show. There is therefore the need to deliberately create awareness through encouraging students and demonstrating a habit of gratitude. In so doing, the benefits will accrue directly to the teacher in the long term. In order to bring about a change in the society’s perceived value of the teacher, the teachers must first believe that it is possible to bring about the change. With the belief that it is possible, then all those involved in the teaching profession must unite to work together to make it happen. The teacher is a communicator by nature. The Information Age is the Teachers’ age and social media is the powerful driver in the Information Age. It is also The Age for anyone that can assume the job of a teacher of some sort by teaching something they are good at. Unfortunately, most teachers use the arsenal of social media for purposes that have no value. The communicator’s, that is, the teacher’s worth is determined by the value of the content of what she can communicate. The teacher’s work is highly scalable in comparison to other more rewarding professions and usually requires much less capital investment. For instance, a doctor can attend to only one patient at a time. However, the teacher can serve up to millions of people at a time and for a very long time, by using the tools of the internet in general and social media in particular. For instance, the last article I published reached ten thousand readers in five days and thirteen thousand in a week. I had written the article in November but it was sitting idle for about three months until I reposted it at a more suitable time and targeted it to the right audience. If the teacher does not get value from her being a teacher, the reason could be either one or all of the following. 1. The content she or he communicates has no value to the targeted audience. 2. She does not know how to articulate content. 3. She does not know how to package and deliver content. 4. She does not know the most important parameters that enhance content value. In other words, she does not know the key third party players that need to be targeted. The current situation in Zambia now is such that there are more than 20,000 trained teachers with no jobs, on one hand. On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of children who either have no school places or are in very crowded classrooms. This situation is like having two problems; the first problem being having too much food there is nowhere to store it and the second being too many people starving because they do not know where to get the food. This is the second paradox. The above mentioned two problems are good problems because they have a single solution which happens to be the solution to a third problem, that of stunted economic growth. That single solution is teacher innovation. The teacher needs to get control by becoming the innovative entrepreneur. The resources the teacher has are resourcefulness and skills to communicate value to the masses. The value of content has to be acquired and enhanced through getting committed to CONTINUOUS EDUCATION via information technologies.

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