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The current teacher and society

African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)

Students in Tanzania mission schools are always neat, happy and enjoy learning.

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Sr. Sperata discusses in great detail the meaning of being a teacher, roles played by teachers in society and problems that are discouraging the teaching / learning process in Tanzania.

The article is being written to touch the hearts of education supporters. I understand the cry for quality education by many of us based among the disadvantaged people in Tanzania and other rural areas around the world. I am encouraged to share with readers the meaning of being a teacher, roles played by teachers in society, and things influencing or discouraging the learning/teaching process.  My name is Sr. Sperata Christian, (STH), the headmistress of St. Therese of Lisieux Primary school located at Ukonga, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Currently I am attending the ASEC – SLDI program in administration.  I really appreciate the marvelous work ASEC is providing to produce strong and committed leaders who are willing to serve society without bias or prejudice. Indeed to empower African sisters is to a build strong reliance society which paves the way to the eradication of poverty.

Who is a teacher?

A teacher is a person who helps others to acquire knowledge, competencies and values. Teachers have long-lasting impacts on the lives of their students, and the greatest teachers inspire students toward greatness. A great teacher is one a student remembers and cherishes forever. To be successful, a good teacher should be well molded and empowered with quality educational skills.  For a country like Tanzania, we need to have committed and effective teachers who will shape children to a high performance appraisal, especially in science and information technology.

Most of our teachers neglect teaching science subjects. When they do, very few teachers are engaging and holding the attention of students in science discussions.  There is a need to review the teaching methodology not only in science subjects, but also in arts subjects if we want to establish and promote an industrialized country.  Effective discipline skills, English language improvement, and good communications systems will promote positive behaviors and will change the level of education in Tanzanian schools. This is especially true when it is initiated and practiced from the first level of education.  We need to have qualified teachers who have a worldwide view, and who encourage everyone to always work at their best level for the good of our future generations.  I believe that quality education and committed teachers will produce a strong and self-reliant generation.  We need to continue searching for ways to improve the standard of science education. It is an enormous cry of educated people in Tanzania for societal and industrialized development.  Readers of this article should know that behind every successful professional accomplishment, there is a well-prepared teacher. This should not be overlooked. A great teacher has incredible knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the subject matter they are teaching. Expert and effective teachers are prepared to answer questions and to keep the material interesting for the students.  I would like to encourage all teachers to develop a great passion for the teaching process, strong rapport with students, and mutually trusting relationships with parents, school stakeholders, and the society they serve.  

The roles of a teacher

The role of a teacher in society is both significant and valuable. It has far-reaching influence on the location where one lives.  No other personality can have an influence more profound than that of a teacher. Different educators have described the teacher in different ways. Some describe him/her as a dispenser of knowledge, while others see him/her as a leader, counsel or coach, facilitator and a role model. Whatever description one would want to use, the underlying issue still remains that the teacher plays a leading role in determining the future of students and society. Some people also argue that a corrupt and incompetent teacher is a bad individual and the embodiment of a corrupt and incompetent generation. It illustrates how disastrous it is for a nation to have poor teachers. The teacher is the architect of any future generation. So to assume the responsibility as a teacher, one has to be competent, morally upright and knowledgeable.

The roles of the teacher are numerous and challenging. Aside from the classroom, the teacher must also be known outside the school system. He/she must be ready to go into research and community service. The teacher, having already received, and continuing to receive, requisite training and education, should be better placed to affect the lives of students and society. The school and the community are one. This implies that what affects the school also affects the community and vice versa. The teacher is the bridge between these two entities. Jennifer Tylee (1992) stated that,

"The teacher, who is a variable in the classroom context, is charged with the function of acting as an intermediary between the variables outside the classroom and the students, to assist the students with their additional learning, The function of being an intermediary means that the teacher has the role of facilitating student learning, as well as being a part of the school and community.” 

Educate children

The most common role a teacher plays in the classroom is to impart knowledge to children. Teachers must follow the given curriculum in order to meet state guidelines. This curriculum is followed by the teacher so that throughout the year, all pertinent knowledge is presented to the students. Teachers teach in many ways including lectures, small group activities and hands-on learning activities.  This helps to build a dependable and self-reliant generation in the country. Studies reveal that a hard working teacher is often admired by students and members of the general society. Aside from the academics, students also try to learn their teachers' mannerisms, modes of dress, etiquette, and style of conversation. For a student to grow up as a responsible citizen, a good teacher is needed as a role model.

Creating a positive learning environment

Teachers also play an important role in the classroom when it comes to the environment. An environment set by the teacher can be either positive or negative. Students often mimic a teacher’s actions. If the teacher produces a warm, happy environment, students are more likely to be happy. If students sense the teacher is angry, students may react negatively to that and therefore learning can be impaired. Teachers are responsible for the social behavior in their classrooms. This behavior is primarily a reflection of the teacher’s actions and the environment he/she sets.

Protector

Another role played by teachers is a protector role. Teachers are taught to look for signs of trouble in the students. When students’ behaviors change or physical signs of abuse are noticed, teachers are required to look into the problem. Teachers must follow faculty procedures when it comes to following up on all signs of trouble.  This is a very crucial element in child growth.   It assist children to build a fundamental spirit in dealing with different challenges in life due to the good morality they grow with.  The younger generation is put in the hands of a teacher. Therefore it is the responsibility of every teacher to help the young achieve their dreams. A teacher is the channel between the dream and the reality. Generally the role played by teachers  in providing quality education at all levels  enables children and adults of all ages to learn how to take part in and contribute to their local community and global society. Thus teachers, parents and society should work hand in hand in order to produce good future generations.

Role Modeling

Teachers typically do not think of themselves as role models. However they are. Students spend a great deal of time with their teacher and therefore, the teacher becomes a role model to them. This can be a positive or negative effect depending on the teacher. Teachers are there not only to teach the children, but also to love and care for them. Teachers are highly respected by people in the community and therefore become a role model to students, parents and the society at large.

Mentoring

Mentoring is a natural role taken on by teachers, whether it is intentional or not. This again can have positive or negative effects on children. Mentoring is a w ay a teacher encourages students to strive to be the best they can. This also includes encouraging students to enjoy learning. Part of mentoring consists of listening to students. By taking time to listen to what students say, teachers impart to students a sense of ownership in the classroom. This helps to build their confidence and assists them in becoming successful members in society.

Challenges facing a teacher

There are many challenges which face teachers in their profession, particularly in Tanzania.  Some of them include lack of conducive environment for teaching, shortage of funds and resources for running school projects, assistance in the teaching process, respect and support from government institutions for whom they provide services, and from society in general. 

Poor learning conditions

Lack of conducive environment for both teaching and learning process has become a burning issue which has led to the deterioration of quality education in Tanzania especially in the rural areas.  The government has tried to build schools in different villages, but due to the large size of the country there are still some places where the children suffer the consequences.  Children walk a very long distance to the school and many of them are left behind.  The students have nowhere to sit while learning. There is a shortage of clean water which contributes a lot to eruption of diseases like cholera, diarrhea and typhoid.  I have always asked myself why children in private schools perform better than those from the government schools. The biggest reason lies in the points just made.  We needs clear strategic plans to be set up in order to overcome the situation.  Despite the best intentions of teachers, the situation is frustrating and demoralizing to them and makes it very difficult to play the necessary role to properly develop future generations. 

Lack of funding

Lack of proper funding by the government has a number of negative impacts on the teaching profession and student learning development.    Facilities begin to deteriorate, teaching resource spending is curtailed, fewer teachers are hired, and consumable budgets are slashed.  Essentially, teachers are asked to achieve top level results with inadequate funds for tools and resources.  It gets so bad that inspired teachers often draw from their own personal funds to properly equip their classrooms.  This situation discourages most of the teachers to fulfil their accountability and this affects students’ learning as well as their performance appraisal.

Teacher bashing

Consideration the aspect of respect, education is constantly changing…it is a dynamic entity.  It is also often under attack as latest “trends” or “crises” appear on a somewhat regular basis. As with any profession, there are areas which need improvement and we rely on our front line workers to implement them.  I would contend, however, that in education the front line workers, namely teachers and educational support workers, are consistently shortchanged in order to justify taking measures to fix the crisis of the day. In fact, there is an actual term called “teacher bashing” which is used quite often.  This is the polar opposite of what should happen.  Only by rewarding and encouraging our teachers can we hope to fix any ills which exist in the system.   Teachers are leading the charge to address these challenges and the politicians, parents and the public in general need to work with the education system and not use the front line teachers as a scapegoat for the ills of society.  Teaching is a very difficult profession and it is often cursed by the fact that everyone thinks they know how to do it better.  By validating, recognizing, respecting and celebrating teachers’ and educational workers’ day we can produce a better system for all. Being a teacher today is beyond professional, it is a fantastic and amazing grace.  It’s rewarding to see students understand something that challenged them in the past. It’s satisfying to hear them say that you made science (or English or history or math). It’s gratifying to know that when students walk out your door, they know something about the world because of you. This encourages me a lot to continue loving my students, respecting our teachers and building strong confidence in the teaching process.

The lack of conducive learning environment in some of Tanzania public schools leads to poor student performance.

The lack of conducive learning environment in some of Tanzania public schools leads to poor student performance.

Why mission schools and some private schools outperform public schools.

Commitment

Most teachers performing services in mission schools follow the spirit of Jesus Christ: be a servant of all!  Schools are comprised of the people in the community. As a teacher, it’s important to understand the community to which your students belong.  For instance, the community where I teach in is a rural setting. The majority of the students are poor and the parents are disadvantaged.   Therefore I always empower my teachers to adapt the circumstances of the people we are serving and be fundamentally engaged in the spirit of our founder St. Therese of the Child Jesus.  In this sense, teachers have flexibility in rearranging study plans, and they are involved in doing follow-ups of learning  for all students without neglecting marginalized ones.  This is different from other schools where teachers do not have to ensure that each student in class is learning and engaged. In mission schools teachers have to make sure that we are in line with the goals of the school. Most of the time, that goal is the same: educate students so that when they enter the real world, they will be capable of making good choices. Teaching can be challenging at times, but as long as you really care about your  profession, your students will appreciate your assistance,  both with the lessons in  class and their struggles outside of your class. This total approach to the teaching profession can be a very rewarding career.

Conducive environment for learning

The availability of teaching and learning materials in mission schools is sufficient and given first priority.   Class size is one of the major differences between public schools and private schools. The class size in urban public schools can be as large as 50-100 students (or more) while most private schools keep their class sizes closer to an average of 30-45 students.  Smaller class sizes also mean that teachers can give students longer and more complicated assignments and give attention to every individual student as teachers don’t have as many papers to grade. All this serves to influence performance and build resilience, and confidence in society and community.

Empowerment and motivation of teachers

Teachers need to be certified and have a willing spirit in order to empower others.  In many private schools, particularly mission schools, teachers are experts in their fields. They have Diplomas, baccalaureate degrees or master’s degree They earn a  good salary.   Generally teachers in mission schools can afford a different level of life. They are  provided with a good house to live in, are congratulated when they raise students’ performance, and rewarded with certificates of accomplishment according to the school system. Many teacher attributed the success story at mission schools to adequate resources such as food, learning materials and a well remunerated staff.  Children at mission schools and some boarding schools attend lessons on a full stomach. Teachers are well paid and dedicate their time to helping the children pass.

The need for teachers

Strong commitment, respect and support from the school stakeholder can contribute in one way or another to the influence of the teaching profession.  Teaching is a long process and difficult when considered from its positive aspects.  Most teachers who neglect students have not yet prepared to be in this profession.  They are forced to join the teaching profession due to their hardship in life, after missing the opportunity they had wished for.  Indeed they will often come to work without a willing heart.  The consequence of this is to produce fruitless products which become a burden to the government and affect the economic development of the country. Teachers sometimes receive low income compared with others who work in hospitals, offices and other different sectors.  Watching children grow and develop is the most rewarding part of teaching. Doctors, engineers, professors, ministries, secretaries are all the products of quality teaching.  However, it is not always sunshine and roses.  In fact, as teachers, we can often see some very sad cases with our students who experience significant loss, neglect or instability in their personal lives.  This can be heart wrenching to watch, and it will fill a teacher with a feeling of emotional upheaval and helplessness.  Quality and strong committed teachers care greatly for their students and want the best for them. When circumstances are beyond ones control they make this near impossible to achieve. It can be devastating.

My upcoming SLDI workshop

The SLDI Administration course that I anticipate completing next year will have great influence on improving my accountability as a headmistress.   I will obtain more leadership techniques and skills which will assist me in running our schools with confidence and in a more professional way.  The knowledge acquired will simplify our mission at the workplace and bring about positive changes in both academics and moral viewpoints. Therefore, through leadership skills, the lifestyle for teachers and non-teaching staff will be improved and everyone will work with more confidence and professionalism.  

The project writing skills I acquire will assist a lot in administering school projects. So far these are stagnant due to lack of funds and grant writing knowledge.  Many thanks and profound sincere appreciation goes to the ASEC founder and program implementers for their efforts and great dedication to assist the improvement of sister’s education in Africa. To empower nuns in Africa is to build a self-reliant society, and foster African development. There is still great demand in Africa to educate as many sisters as possible, and particularly in Tanzania. Quality and committed teachers are the solution to the challenges we face, particularly the eradication of poverty.

A reflection for teacher’s day celebrated worldwide each year on 5th October #teachersday

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