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Good or Bad Teachers? Good or Bad Students?

by Gustavo Ramirez, Guidance Counselor

Anton Chekhov, world famous Russian playwright and short story writer of the 19th century, once commented that there are only two classes of literary works:  those he liked, and those he didn’t like.  Similarly, we might also say that most schools have two types of teachers:  those who students like, and those who students don’t like. Or, there are students who teachers like, and students who teachers don’t like.

Nonetheless, despite Chekhov’s simple classification of literary works, or above simple classification of teachers and students, an education – a good education – can be obtained regardless of whether a student likes or dislikes his/her teacher, or regardless of whether a teacher likes or dislikes a student.

How do I know? Well, as a student in second form (in the sixties) I did not exactly “like” my English Literature teacher. Why? He used to make us analyze poems, even long ones, over and over again – what a painful task for young and restless teenagers. Yet, after four years in high school, two years in Sixth Form, four years at a university in a foreign land, two years of graduate school, and then a very long and intense year in Belize gathering research from three high schools, student by student, I chose to preface my thesis (The Need for Vocational Guidance in Secondary Schools in Belize) with a quote from one of those very poems that I did not like to analyze when I was in second form. Oh yes, after all those years of intense research, and countless hours writing, trying to prove my case, I just could not say it any better that Thomas Gray in his famous Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;                                                                   
full many a flower is born to blush unseen                                                                      
and waste its sweetness in the desert air.

Yes, in Belize we have SO much talent in our young people, yesterday and today. Sadly, so much of it is simply wasted “in the desert air”, or it remains forever trapped in “the dark unfathomed caves” where no one sees, appreciates, or develops it. Imagine, from way back when I was in second form, that one verse from a teacher who may not have been liked has remained firmly implanted in my mind! (Thank you, Mr. Henry Jex!) And today, I am doing all that I can to “make a difference”, to help our Belizean youth NOT “waste its sweetness in the desert air”.

So, despite having good or bad teachers, how does a student go about getting a good and solid education? I feel strongly that students at the high school level (and higher) will only sustain interest in getting a good and solid education if they themselves choose to make a commitment to getting a good education – not if a commitment is forced upon them, whether by teachers who are liked or disliked. Here again, the community (especially parents) can positively influence and guide our young students into making those very important commitments – for the students themselves, not for the sake of teachers.

And, what makes a good teacher, or a good student? How do we encourage young students to make commitments of their own to want to get a good education? Without a receptive or committed student, can there be a good teacher? Obviously, each person will have his/her own answers to these questions. Nonetheless, I strongly feel that a student who is committed to wanting to learn, to wanting to bring out the very best in himself or herself, knows that teachers who may not be popular or liked by most other students can really be stepping stones to better understanding.  

Likewise, the same applies to teachers’ views of students. After all, the popular saying, “We learn from our mistakes” could perhaps also be modified or amplified to “We learn from others’ mistakes”. Most importantly, students need to remember every single day they come to school that the education they get out of school is what they put into it. Teachers also need to remember that what they get out of students will be a reflection of what they put into their classes.

In conclusion, I forcefully remind everyone that teaching should in no way, shape or form be compared to, nor ever considered as, any sort of popularity contest. Teaching is educating; and educating is bringing out – NOT pulling out or forcing out – the best in each student. Above all else, we must always bear in mind that each teacher and each student is a person with value – and deserves respect. A teacher’s teaching methods, as well as a student’s learning methods are always tied to his/her perception of the respect he/she receives, and to his sense of worth.

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