Teaching is the Elixir of the Soul April 2022

I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher, and each day I come to school the smiles of the students in my care make my soul sing, they fill my heart with joy. I really believe that teaching is the elixir of the soul.

Imparting to young people, not only knowledge and subject matter, but a love of life, and life lessons: how to be a good person in the world. It is possibly one of the most emotionally demanding jobs there is: you are constantly baring your soul to your students, but at the same time the most rewarding. My belief in this has only deepened through the COVID 19 pandemic.

Early in my career I was inspired by a book I was given that was written by Parker Palmer: The Courage to Teach, which lays out his belief that teaching is one of the greatest professions in the world. Palmer is a Quaker and he gives teaching the spiritual dimension I believe it deserves.

“If we want to grow as teachers — we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives — risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract.”
Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life

After over 20 years of working in the education system in the UK, Hong Kong and Singapore, and two years of a worldwide pandemic his words resonate with me even more today.

“I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illumined by the lightning-life of the mind—then teaching is the finest work I know.”
— Parker Palmer

I have been inspired by so many colleagues around me, one in particular, Ms Maire, my wonderful colleague and Literacy Lead at the Sir Manasseh Meyer International School in Singapore who is much loved by her students and parents alike, who was recently awarded the World ORT Teacher of the Year award said:

“The last couple of years have been such a challenging time for education, but there have been so many opportunities hidden in there as well. Not only to work together to find ways to keep the learning journey moving forward for our students, but also to find ways to connect on deeper levels, to use tools and technologies in creative ways.” Maire Clapham, ORT Teacher of the Year

From the teacher, to us.

Each of us ventures into different professions based on what we enjoy doing, what we think we are good at, or where we feel we can make a difference. When I ask my colleagues why they became teachers, it is not only about the passion they have for their subject…it is resoundingly about the impact they have on young people in their care and in time the impact they will have on the world. Here are just a few responses from some of our fantastic teachers:

“To be able to utilise ones’ experience, knowledge and wisdom to help nurture, guide and inspire the next generation… what can be better than that?”

“The variety of students you teach, the changing challenges and the daily discoveries make teaching an interesting and engaging adventure.”

“To mould, care and inspire the next generation”

“To make a difference in a child’s life”

“To make a difference in the world and experience so much joy in seeing children grow and develop.”

“I love working with children and teens, and I love my subject: teaching allows me to be immersed in literature and creative writing, whilst enriching young lives.”

“I wanted to be able to make a difference in the life of Jewish children living in Singapore, knowing that their time here would be limited before they moved back to their home country or moved on to other destinations. I knew that I had the power and ability to impart values and pride in their heritage and equip them to be true, honest and virtuous upstanding young people that in turn would light up that same flame in others. True lamplighters! After 26 years I still enjoy igniting new sparks daily! And I’m so grateful to be able to do it surrounded by the amazing staff at SMMIS.”

What is the role of the teacher?
A teacher wears many hats, and plays many roles. That’s the nature of educating children. We must be there to guide them, inspire them, and have a positive impact on their lives. If you think back to your early education years, chances are you can name one or two teachers that had a profound impact on you and your upbringing. Here’s a comprehensive, yet simplified breakdown of the role of the teacher:

Role of the Teacher

1. To ignite the soul

2. To be a role model

3. To be a trusted adult

4. To be a mentor

5. To impart knowledge

Another inspiration was the Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth and world-renowned educator, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who says this clearly:

“Teachers open our eyes to the world. They give us curiosity and confidence. They teach us to ask questions. They connect us to our past and future. They’re the guardians of our social heritage. We have lots of heroes today – sportsmen, supermodels, media personalities. They come, they have their fifteen minutes of fame, and they go. But the influence of good teachers stays with us. They are the people who really shape our life.” (From Optimism to Hope p. 132)

If you think about which teachers inspired you most as a child, I will put my money on your answer being not the teachers who taught you the key dates in ancient history, or Pythagoras’ Theorum, but rather the teachers who made you feel seen and who taught you how to live in this world, how to be a good person, in short the teacher who gave you love and showed you respect.

As Ms Maire puts it so beautifully: “above all, at the end of the day, teaching and education remains a deeply personal human endeavour”.

Perhaps it’s all about bridging the gap between being an educator and a friend, which separates the memorable teachers from the less memorable. The role they play is more like a parent or a guardian, who is present at an impressionable period of a child’s life, and who encourages them to flourish.

Closing Thoughts
Teachers have the capacity to shape our whole lives. They open our eyes to the world around us, and give us the confidence to ponder the “why” without a shadow of doubt in our questions. They connect us to our past, while reminding us to think ahead to our future, and our impact. Teachers really are the guardians of our social heritage. I hold out tremendous hope and trust in our educators, and future educators, being raised with these values in mind.