Teachers matter a lot. That’s saying the obvious; we all know that, you might say. True, but still it needs to be said because we don’t say it enough. And partly because of that teachers feel they do not get the recognition they deserve.
Yet they have great influence on who or what we become, on our outlook to many things and what we do whether we acknowledge it or not. In fact the greatest of them are a source of inspiration to their students – even those who achieve the greatest things.
It was therefore reassuring for teachers and many of those with unpaid gratitude to the men and women who helped shape their lives to hear President Paul Kagame come out in full praise of Rwandan teachers at a ceremony in Dubai to award the best teacher.
He singled out Mr Augustine Nyabutsitsi for special mention, as a teacher who inspired him.
That is the greatest tribute for Mr Nyabutsitsi who is still teaching and inspiring many other young minds in Rwanda to play their role in the world.
President Kagame’s public recognition of their work is also a great compliment to Rwandan teachers in general.
They can feel proud that their efforts are rewarded, if not with material gains, at least with the knowledge that they have made a difference in the lives of individuals, even the most powerful. They can certainly be pleased with the quality of their products.
Good teachers know that teaching is not just another job. It is more than that. It is a mission and for the best of them, it is a passion. One is only satisfied when the mission is accomplished.
For that to happen, they will often do more than the job demands, or as President Kagame put it, go “far beyond the call of duty to ensure that…children acquire(d) education.”
He was, of course, talking about experience in refugee camps where teachers played a heroic role, sometimes going “door-to-door, urging children to come to school” and at other times, confronting “local authorities, to advocate for the right of refugee children to get an education.”
But he could also have been talking about other situations of hardship in the developing world where teachers show unusual devotion and sacrifice. They go beyond the call of duty and teach their young charges regardless of the conditions. As Mr Kagame said, teachers taught “whether there was a building or not, whether we had books or not, whether teachers were paid or not.”
Students, too, caught the passion of their teachers and responded with great enthusiasm. No one can mistake the results of that experience. We are where we are today because of it.
In his speech, President Kagame went beyond simple recognition. He ascribed Rwanda’s unique spirit to teachers. He told his Dubai audience that they he and others had learnt more and acquired life-long values from their teachers.
“From them, we learned the importance of resilience, responsibility, and self-reliance,” he said. Those values still guide the nation in its efforts to build a fitting future for its citizens.
The significance of President Kagame’s speech in Dubai is not simply about remembering the past or even acknowledging its impact on the present. It is about the present and the future; about the role of teachers in obviously different conditions.
Today’s circumstances are better. The learning environment has much improved. Technological advancement makes the learning process easier. Teachers are therefore expected to do better than their counterparts who worked in conditions of deprivation.
The speech is both a vindication of teachers and a challenge to the current crop of teachers to also go beyond the call of duty in creating the citizen of the future.
Today’s teacher and learner, and even the needs are different. But so too are the circumstances. There are obvious advantages to exploit. The world is full of easily accessible information from a multitude of sources.
Teachers are no longer the sole source of information and knowledge.
This means that they have more time with students and can therefore facilitate the learning process better. They have time for research into more innovative approaches to learning, and for professional development. They have more and better tools at their disposal.
There is simply no excuse for not being effective.
Despite the clear differences between the teachers of President Kagame’s childhood and those of today, their role remains largely the same.
They are still vital to the social, cultural and economic life of the nation and the future of humankind. The best among them will always be inspirational and transformational.
They will always be role models for successive generations of students in varying circumstances, of deprivation or abundance. We will never stop celebrating teachers.