The role of a teacher

Decided to take a stab at this somewhat controversial topic that seemed to be recurring this week – be it from discussions with colleagues, interactions with my students, the upcoming Promotional Exercise, or facebook posts such as these:

What students really need to hear   and   Why tough teachers get good results


This is an essential question that every teacher would probably have asked him/herself at some point in time, subconsciously or otherwise. Is our purpose as teachers primarily to teach subject content in alignment with the organisation’s goals? Or is it to instill life lessons such as mental fortitude, lifelong skills and values (to a lesser extent still in alignment)? How about caring for our students deeply? What about professional boundaries and work-life balance? Where do we draw the line for how much we ought to give?

Some of my fellow colleagues would probably agree with me that life lessons are the most important. (Remember that it isn’t a zero-sum game – it is possible to achieve multiple goals. The question is one of priority, of ranking of importance.). For me, the questions that naturally led me to this conclusion are simple.


1. What will my students take away with them when they graduate? What will they remember? Is it the chemistry content taught in class? Possibly but unlikely. Or would it be the more impactful life lessons that they have learnt throughout the course of their education? Most likely the case.

I concede the point that students need to have good grades in order to move on to their next stage of life. After all, in this harsh society that we live in, paper qualifications are a necessity to get what you want, to land that ‘dream job’. But, as i mentioned, it really isn’t a zero-sum game. Push our students for grades yes, but never ever forget, that grades are, at the end of the day, just numbers and alphabets on a piece of paper that fly away with a gust of wind. Which leads to my second question:


2. Can students succeed in life with mere grades? Do i want to have a student graduating with flying colours, yet with shitty values and character? Or would i prefer a student who doesn’t do as well comparatively, yet understands that life isn’t so simple, and that resilience and hard work are necessary for one to succeed? Definitely the latter.

In fact, i even want to extend it a little to say that, perhaps, just perhaps, it is necessary for students to have all these fundamental qualities instilled in them before they can even begin to do well. Maybe i’m a little too idealistic, but i really feel that, especially for our students in particular, this is something extremely important. Our students don’t know so many things. The lessons that they ought to have learnt already at this age have not been learnt. They are unable to see that they are in a rut, sinking deeper into quicksand, or even worse subconsciously digging themselves deeper and deeper.

On the topic of children and parenting, some say: let the kid fail and fall, he/she will pick him/herself up. Children will learn from their mistakes. Yet when the analogy is being pushed to the touching of fire, how many parents would say that the price to pay from such a lesson is commensurate with its benefits? There are problems and difficulties faced by our students that we have to address now. Before it becomes too late. Because not everyone is able to help themselves up from large falls. Because some burns are just too severe. Reminded of the time when i talked to Mrs Tan about productive failure, and she mentioned in passing that sometimes they need to learn before they fail. Hmm.


I doubt that i will ever place the same level of emphasis to subject content than to life lessons. And speaking of which, i am glad that i am now at least able to care more for my students, and to try to do more pastoral care.

Due to privacy concerns i will just be giving the bare bones of things here. In short, i managed to convince a really problematic (but still good at heart i believe) student to sit down and have a chit-chat session with me. If you have been following my blog posts, you would have heard me mentioning about this quite a whiles back. Exams are finally over, and i felt that if i lost this opportunity, it would be too late. And i probably wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself for quite awhile. To be in a position to have helped, knowing that there are few in that same position, yet to choose not to do it, for whatever reason… just sucks haha. Thankfully, i felt that he actually did want to and was willing to meet me. Why do i say this? There was some miscommunication initially and the meetup timing was off. So essentially he came to school just to meet me, yet could not. And he was still willing to meet me the next day, although i had to offer to make things more convenient for him by finding him instead ^^;;

To be honest, i have no idea if what i did was even.. right, for lack of a better word. Counselling is a double-edged sword for the untrained, and in the worse case scenario can cut yourself badly although you are merely trying to help. How do i handle the fallout if things don’t turn out well? I cannot help but worry. For now however, my care for him seems to have reached him, and i really really hope that he will be able to start thinking a little bit more, a little bit deeper, and start to change his behaviour for the better. Am glad that i did what i felt had to be done.

What did we talk about? Too many things to list ^^;;


Things don’t end that easily however. Next up would be the Promotional Exercise. Not my first one, as i have been through it last year. But unlike last year, i now see its importance, and the power behind the teacher’s decision. With great power comes great responsibility indeed. We have to decide, as best as we can, if it really is in the child’s best interests to stay on. Are we wasting their time? What if the child could flourish somewhere else instead, and just needed that push? Or are will killing off their hopes too early? What if they suddenly wake up one day and grow wings that totally exceed our expectations? So many what ifs.

I have also been so focused on this student that i have neglected the others too. I can already list out at least another 3 who could really need some talking to T_T. It’s a never ending job huh. How many of them will leave at the end of this year? How many of them will repeat another year? Will they be able to cope? I really really hope so.


What do i want to do differently next year? What kind of teacher do i envision myself to be?

What kind of teacher will i turn out to be? Only time can tell.

Thanks for tuning in.


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