The world day for teachers

Today is World Teacher’s Day — the Australian version! It has been internationally celebrated on October 5th since 1994 commemorating the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers. These recommendations were developed to ensure that all young people have access to a quality education. It is a celebration of education and the many dedicated and passionate teachers that bring it to life.

I have taken the opportunity to, rather than produce a story from a teacher’s perspective, give voice to some students that have something to say about World Teacher’s Day. Two secondary students, one male and one female, allowed me to interview them individually. One is a lower secondary school student, and the other is an upper secondary student. Neither are my students, and their responses might be surprising considering they are teenagers. Teachers of adolescents will know that they are not typically forthcoming with what is on their mind — unless via eruption. These were thoughtful and considered responses.

I asked the students what they thought World Teacher’s Day was all about and they figured that it was a day of celebration when ‘teachers get to be celebrated for their hard work’. So, I asked them, ‘how do you celebrate teachers?’ Both answered that they would give thanks and one student said that they would ‘put an apple on [the teacher’s] desk’. Please note that this response was given with a cheeky smile and a giggle so that I might be checking for worms! Then I asked what they would say thanks for and here is what they said:

Putting up with me. I just think it would be hard being a teacher, looking after 25 kids and a lot of the time they don’t get paid for what they do — a lot of stuff they do out of their teaching hours. Like making stuff to help us out and putting it [online]. They don’t have to do that, they’ve already told us in class. That’s what they do to help us. They are willing to go out of their way to help me. If  I’m really struggling in class and ask for help after class, they would say yes.

Thanks for helping me learn so that I can get a job when I’m older. So, I know what to do in life. I can ask them questions, and they’ll answer it, which is good, I can go to them outside of class time, and I can ask them questions too. I can email them. They’re understanding.

After such responses, my confidence that the apple would be worm- free grew. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics estimates that 264 million school-aged children do not attend school and that the world needs almost 69 million new teachers to attain the goal of primary and secondary education for all by 2030. Certain groups of students are less likely to be educated, such as girls, children with disabilities, refugee and migrant children, and poor children living in rural or remote areas. The aim is for all young people to feel the same way as the two students above because they have teachers — and well prepared and supported teachers. With the recent and continuing concern over teacher attrition, the gaps in education might become more prominent.

I inquired as to whether the students might like to be teachers one day and one student emphatically said ‘no’ because ‘I don’t want to have to be responsible for 20 kids’, and the other said ‘no, maybe, I don’t know’. The reason for the indecisiveness was because it was felt it ‘would be annoying teaching people [subjects] you already know’.

The teachers that I worked with for a year on a research project exploring teachers’ work indicated that the teachers were rather passionate about their disciplines. In fact, the very few times they used the word ‘love’ was in reference to the subjects that they taught. What struck me was that there was a resistance to acknowledge the ‘love’ involved in teaching. Attachments between students and teachers naturally form, which is a necessary element of a productive teacher-student relationship. Love stems from any attachment. I am not suggesting that teachers love their students as profoundly or in the same way as family members and friends, but there is a type of love, and the students know it. I asked one student what they would say to their teachers if they were face-to-face on World Teacher’s Day. The reply was:

Thank you for teaching me. I can tell that you really care about me and my education.

The other student was asked whether World Teacher’s Day is important, who answered:

Yes, because there is Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, so with Teacher’s Day, they care for you as well. They teach you stuff. They do what a parent would do but obviously not for as long. They still help you go forward in life, so I think there needs to be a day to celebrate that. They probably don’t get that much recognition because people just think ‘argh, I’m going to school’ and teachers are associated with school. I think they need a bit of recognition for [what they do].

I agree! As well as non-teachers recognising what teachers do, which is essential, teachers need to recognise what they do as well. The unspoken elements of a teacher’s job — like loving your students — can be the toughest and the loveliest aspect.

So teachers, enjoy your metaphorical ‘apples’— which in teenager terms is a sideways glance with a sparkle in the eye and a sneaky smile escaping out of a corner.

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