Great teachers have faith in their students

The adage “A bad workman blames his tools” would sound ridiculous used on teachers and their pieces of chalk or boards. However it makes great sense in reference to students. Every poor teacher finds it easy to point the blame finger at the students. Sadly, most of our staffrooms are usually saturated with discourses of deficiency among students rather than faith in them.

This embarrassing trend bespeaks an educational experience fraught with negative beliefs and expectations, not just about the students’ immediate potential, but also about their ability to succeed in general. This attitude becomes an inescapable prophecy lurking in every assignment or project they undertake.

Lest I am misunderstood, I do not intend to take accountability for success or failure off the student, but we must be willing to equally take responsibility for how we relay content and even the quality of the content we give. That having been said, despite the radical differences in approach, personality and philosophy of different teachers, I’ve been struck by the realisation that great teachers have faith – not religious faith but an unwavering belief in something or someone, even in the absence of material evidence. All great teachers are slow to blame and quick to introspect on how to help a student.

Students need us to believe in their ability to thrive in school, earn a degree, and lead a better life. It should be pointed out that believing in students is not mere pep talk spiced by empty renditions. These words matter only if they are true and if you demonstrate them by your actions. While it’s almost impossible to ignore the discourse of deficiency, many of us secretly know that our students are capable of much more and should make it a point to encourage them. Great teaching inspires both in and outside of the classroom. It can lead students to uncover pathways that they might not have thought possible, or light a spark in each of us who observe the drive, compassion and ability of educators helping to shape the next generation. This faith in students is not naïve.

Great teachers have an unequivocal belief in all students’ potential. By “potential” I do not mean only that they believe that all of their students will join universities. What I mean instead by “potential” is that a student is capable of achievement beyond what anyone might think possible. Great teachers understand that life can take astonishing and unpredictable turns. Because of that belief, they do not ever give up even on students who never appear to make progress.

When we turn from a discourse of deficiency to a discourse of faith, new opportunities become possible in the classroom. We move away from unrealistic and unsuccessful part-to-whole pedagogies, toward more holistic pedagogies that embrace the student, as they are, not as we would like them to be. Like my students, I am in a constant state of becoming. I am learning as much from them as they are from me. I think it’s time to replace the discourse of deficiency with something more powerful: faith.

The writer is a Language Consultant