As parents, teachers and students are preparing for another school year, it seems timely to focus on the influence of teachers in this week’s column.
The adolescent period can be described as emotionally turbulent as teenagers react to dramatic hormone-induced changes in their bodies and brains. At this critical time of a child’s development, the parent’s guiding influence is limited, as students spend much of their time at school. Parents therefore entrust their children to the guiding influence of teachers.
At school, students tend to associate with other students who share similar behaviours, values, skills, or aspirations. The similarities that hold each group of students together can be called the culture of the group, and every group of students has a distinct culture. Students, particularly teenagers are vulnerable to and highly influenced by this culture, sometimes out of a fear of being excluded from the group.
Parents and teachers are authority figures with whom students interact daily and who therefore represent standards of excellence. Students need these standards to define the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Since students are still maturing, the group’s behaviour will rarely reach the standard of their parents or teachers, however it should not fall far behind.
Some groups define their cultural identity by exhibiting behaviour that is as far from the teacher’s standard as possible, without crossing the line of unacceptability. They like to test the limits of acceptable behaviour by being rude, untidy, rebellious, or otherwise, but not to the extent to warrant severe punishment. These groups pride themselves in achieving a behaviour that is marginally acceptable.
Teachers are essentially role models whose primary assets are their ability to both discipline themselves and effectively convey information. If teachers adopt low or marginally acceptable standards of behaviour, then their students will tend to view this as an implied acceptable standard by which their own behaviour should be measured, and adopt even lower standards.
Unfortunately the consequences of falling below standards of sexual purity and marital fidelity can be the incurable HIV AIDS, and a host of other sexually transmitted diseases. Also, the consequences of falling below high ethical standards can ruin a professional’s career. It is therefore absolutely necessary for both parents and teachers to be responsible and disciplined enough to maintain and promote high standards of behaviour. That is one of the responsibilities of becoming a parent and choosing the vocation of a teacher.
Responsible teachers have existed and still do exist. I remember Mr Harry Sealy, who was my form master and mathematics teacher at Combermere School. He was also an example of a perfect gentleman with the ability to gently discipline, or critically encourage students. He possessed an impressive and varied array of positive qualities, all in controlled equilibrium, and which, when required, were deftly brought to the fore.
I also remember Mr Deighton Maynard who taught me English language. His daily use of impeccable English did more to influence my writing ability than all of the valuable classroom subject material that he taught, and his consistency in decorum was an example and model to the entire student body.
Then there was Mr Timothy Callendar who taught art with an unbridled passion, and encouraged every student regardless of the amount of promise they showed. I cannot fail to mention Mr Karl Broodhagen. He also taught me art and exhibited great patience and encouragement if a student appeared to make a genuine effort. Any genuine effort, no matter how small, would elicit Mr. Broodhagen’s infectious excitement, and unleash his priceless knowledge of art and things related.
While these and other teachers influenced my behaviour and those of thousands of other students, they were in my case, making adjustments to a stone that was already moving under the inertia of the guidance of my parents. My parents taught me English and mathematics, gave me an appreciation for art and music, and demonstrated to me a respect for God and all forms of authority. I was therefore one of those who became a beneficiary of the culture of Combermere before I ever entered the school’s gates.
Our students are facing significant challenges to achieve in today’s popular cultural environment. It is therefore essential for both parents and teachers to work in their respective spheres of influence, to exhibit and promote standards of excellence in their behaviour.