When I interview educators for our school, either I or someone on the team will ask this question, “Can you tell us why you chose to be a teacher?”. It is a simple question with an even simpler motive. We are trying to understand the intrinsic motivation this candidate has/had on becoming an educator and if their motives align with our team.
Usually we will receive a litany of standard replies such as “Oh, I love teaching. I love working with kids. I am a mother so I know how best to work with children. I am passionate about teaching”. Almost all replies will orbit around the emotional point of being passionate about the profession.
There is just one problem with that. The “passionate” teacher is a red herring that every candidate likes to tell and a mirage every parent/principal would like to believe (against their better judgement).
The problem with passion is that (as every frustrated wife can warn you), it wanes and ebbs. But mostly, it wanes over time. Passion is like fireworks. It bursts with color. It paints your sky. It is the highlight of your evening. It is beautiful.
But it is also brief and fleeting. Like the amorous passion of the young.
Anyone who has raised children can tell you that passion alone is not going to get the job done. You need something more lasting, more permanent and definitely something that you can count on every single moment of the day. Something that has utility. Something like the fire built for cooking. Smouldering, slow, unglamorous, nothing to gasp about but powerful enough to graze the whole village to ashes.
Can an educator sacrifice the beauty of the fireworks for the utility of the stove?
One master teacher got it right when he said, “Passion. Passion is nothing. Passion is the bare minimum, a prerequisite. Passion gets you to the threshold but does not guarantee passage into our home.”
Mr Rasyad continued, “To see things through with a teenager, you need equal parts passion and persistence. Passion alone is going to fizzle out when going gets tough.”
And the going gets, gasping for air, head bobbing above water, flapping your arms wildly about to drown hard when you have to deal with teenagers.
Adolescence is a tough period. The hormonal changes. The feeling of being picked upon. The reasonless rage. The directionless energy. The all engulfing laziness for some. The hyper-sensitivity for others. The worst is when some teens flip from one state to the other without any justification.
Dealing with teenagers is like dealing with forces of nature. A lot of times there is no immediate logical explanation. Things do not move according to your plan. Your plan has to change according to their state. A good example will be two brothers in my class. They are such well behaved boys. They have total respect for teachers. Highly engaged in class. They are always participative and ask a tonne of questions (most of the time outside the syllabus but I love it).
However, they consistently fall behind on their revision and fail to follow even the simplest instructions about homework. I’ve had one to one sessions with them where I coached them about the importance of time management, submitting high quality work and paying attention. Each time they would open up, share their challenges, we would come up with a solution together (ranging from optimizing their schedule to helping them create revision material most apt with their learning style) and everyone would agree on an achievable timeline and results.
What do you think happened when the due date came? Nothing. Crickets. (I am smiling wide while I write this)
No changes whatsoever. The work will still remain undone or at best a tepid try.
Here is where most passionate teachers throw the towel (more like fume their heads off). They start blaming the student. They start giving up. They segment their class into the good, average and beyond-saving student. After numerous tries, the beyond-saving student will be considered a sunk cost by the passionate teacher.
“Why bother wasting more time and effort? It is best to concentrate my limited time and resources on those who want to change”
Unknown to the teacher, the students know the change in the teachers’ mindset too and they sink deeper.
There are only 2 things that can arrest this decline.
Firstly, it is the intention of the teacher. Why did you choose to be a teacher? Did you choose to be a teacher because you wanted to play a pivotal role in shaping young minds and behaviours?
Or did you choose to become a teacher because you like teaching? (in other words, you like the idea of being the center of a classroom, you like the idea of a bunch of people listening to you, you like being in a position of authority)
What is your true north? To be in service of moulding the future generation or to be in service of your own ego. There is a thin line of difference between both externally. Both intentions would result in similar actions such as reprimanding students, giving proper feedback and holding them accountable. But the chasm of difference is felt by the students on the receiving end.
The teacher whose heart is set with the right intention will be shocked at how his rebuke is not received with hatred but rather, a quiet gratitude marking a silent beginning of improvement in the child. The one who has a malicious ego ends up seeding hate for the teacher in the child’s heart.
Secondly, the mindful teacher has to master teenage psychology. Though teenagers look like adults, they are not. Most parents and teachers seem to have a hard time grasping this fact. Teenagers need training and guidance to help them form good habits, discipline and organisational skills. Just because you had a sit-down or talked to them once, things are not going to miraculously change tomorrow. Highly likely, the situation is going to remain the same. You would have to keep trying (and changing tactics/strategy) till you find a solution that works. Most are aghast at how changes with a child are not immediate and get quickly frustrated.
The truth is if you are a parent, you’ve done this a million times by the time your child turns 2.
Remember the time when your kids loved to throw food on the floor (to test gravity or my patience, I am not so sure) and the times you had to patiently remind them that food is not a toy? Or the countless times you had to calm down your infant because they could not turn over during tummy time? How about the numerous times you had to wipe their tears because they fell down while trying to walk?
Did you achieve the results you wanted in a single time? What has changed now then?
Just because their voices have changed, grown bodily hairs or don’t smell as good as babies, doesn’t mean things have changed. Teenagers are still adults in the making. They are work in progress (as we all are) and need our consistent guidance to help them achieve their goals.
If a child fails to get it the first time or the tenth time, you can do everything and anything (have another sit down, another table talk, another motivation session, another coaching slot) but what you are not allowed to do is to give up.
And here is where the rubber hits the road for most “passionate” teachers. They throw their hands in the air and call it a day.
Being a passionate educator does not mean you are passionate about delivering the syllabus. That you are passionate about droning on. Being a great educator means you become as invested and responsible as a parent. Because truth be told, these children will see you more than they see their parents while growing up.
What you need to see the changes you want is persistence. The power to keep trying till changes materialise to the degree that you will be proud.
Coming back to the two brothers in my class who inspired this long write up. After trying everything in the book (including having breakfast with the entire family), they are finally set on the right path. They take pride in submitting good work. They try quizzes that I assign till they get 100%. Yes, a total flip. Some would call it a miracle. And the truth is, it is.
Teaching is like developing a relationship with God. You can’t see the development of your relationship. You have your doubts on the regular but you keep your faith. You trust the process. You push on. A little each day. One fine day, you realise you have more serenity and the doubts are all gone. Everything seems to make sense. You are at peace. Others will think it has always been this way for you but only you know the tribulations of the journey.
The journey of transforming a student is as consuming and as rewarding, for both teacher and students.
Written by Principal & Founder of Pasxcel, Teacher Yuven
Accounting, Business Studies, Economics & Financial Literacy
BA(Hons) Finance, Accounting & Management, Sunway University
Chartered Accountant, ACCA.
Yuventhiran Nadarajan is a father, husband, speaker and entrepreneur. But he is best known among students and parents alike as an educator. Teacher Yuven believes that the current schooling system is outdated beyond measure and is the last piece of surviving antiquity in our fast-paced ever-changing world.