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Chalk and challenges

Teachers can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges

The best teacher I ever had was Ms Privette. She was my English teacher in Year 10 – a former state hockey champion who wore ugg boots to school every day, even in warm weather. We nicknamed her Puss in Boots.

Puss in Boots had an eccentric, slightly cynical take on the world, a withering, sarcastic tongue and a tendency to view life from backstage instead of front row centre like everyone else. But she inspired me like no other teacher ever did. She was on the brink of retirement even back then, so by now she's probably passed on to that great teachers' staff room in the sky. But she's still in my mind.

I suppose that's the thing with teachers – they never know how far their influence goes.

This is the ethos behind World Teachers' Day, which is celebrated every year on 5 October. In 2014 the event will mark its 20th anniversary, so it seems a good time to pause and reflect on the contribution that teachers all over the world make to society. Especially since there's a looming teacher shortage in many parts of the world. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa where rapid population growth and limited resources means that classrooms can often have as many as 63 pupils per primary teacher. (see infographic below)

The importance of teachers and how they can influence and inspire young minds is something that many of those young minds themselves become fully aware of over time. Often it's when they become old minds and are able to take a broader perspective, remembering and appreciating their teachers over the distance of time. "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge," said Albert Einstein.

American author and speaker, Joyce Meyer, puts it a bit more poetically. "Teachers can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges," she says.

Author C.S. Lewis, of Narnia fame, believes that "the task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts". Comedian Lily Tomlin quips; "I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework."

Writer W.H. Auden's take is more sly; "A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep." (This is exactly the kind of thing Puss in Boots would've said.)

But of course, what do the teachers themselves have to say on the subject? What is it about teaching that inspires them and keeps them going? We canvassed some current TAFE NSW teachers and asked them to finish the statement; What I love most about being a teacher is…

Here are their responses.

"Meeting students years later and seeing them successful in life, with careers they love."  -  Catherine Calvin, North Coast TAFE

"Empowering people."  -  Tiffany Tree, Western Sydney Institute

"Seeing students have ‘light bulb' moments – when it all starts making sense."  -  Margaret Purcell, The Northern Sydney Institute

"When former students come back and thank you, and that you played a role in their current successes. But a close second is the pride I feel watching my students graduate."  -  Kenneth Scott Huntley, TAFE SWSi

"How much I learn in every class I teach through collaboration with the students."  -  David Bartolo, The Northern Sydney Institute

"Having the ability to give people the tools to provide access to knowledge and skills that will add value to their work and lives."  -  Kathy Koustoubardis, TAFE SWSi

"Helping people discover how to be the best they can be at what they choose to do."  -  Peter Dension, Sydney Institute

"That there is so much to love about teaching. I love the diversity… I love seeing students prosper… I love motivating the unmotivated… I love having the opportunity to share. But most of all, I love that each new day may be the one that makes a difference in somebody's life."  -  Maria Saupin, TAFE SWSi

"When graduates are proud of their achievements. I love the battlers getting past the post – they really appreciate the opportunity and acknowledge the support they've had. They think they couldn't have done it without us, but let's face it – we can't do it without them."  -  Justine Poidevin, TAFE Illawarra

Puss in Boots surely couldn't agree more.

Chronic shortage of teachers

by unesco.