The Best Teachers Don’t Do What They’re Told, They Do What’s Necessary

Featured Illustration: Jayesh Sivan

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There is no doubt that Robin Williams as Mr. Keating in the movie Dead Poets Society taught aspiring teachers a lot about being daring and effective. One can find numerous articles written on how the movie has inspired so many people to aspire to be teachers and revolutionaries. The way Mr. Keating whispers in the students’ ears, rips pages out of the textbooks and leaps onto the desk to hail the vital necessity of great literature has been liked by so many. Just like Mr. Keating, many teachers want their students to be autonomous learners, critical thinkers, and change agents.

Even in my university, few teachers were inspired by the character of Mr. Keating and the works of Paulo Freire, Michael Apple, bell hooks, and many other education philosophers and authors who advocate for critical thinking and critical pedagogy. Even so, their belief systems did not translate into practice. Why? Because they preferred to do what they were told to by the authorities.

Better teaching involves a slow process — it focuses on interactive methods, where the focus is more on students’ needs rather than assuming all students are at the same level of understanding. In that case, most teachers are afraid that their students won’t be able to perform well in exams and therefore, no progress of students will raise questions of teachers’ competency.

On the contrary, in a traditional teaching-learning environment, teachers follow a standard system. They teach the lessons to the students via lectures and prepare students for quick results. As a result, the students, instead of understanding the true meaning of concepts, start to memorize the content and the authorities get happy with the results. However, this has long-term negative effects on students. I mean, what’s the point of education if students are not understanding anything at all?

But just because universities believe in the rat race, they are concerned with prompt and effective student results from all teachers. This is why even the teachers influenced by Mr. Keating teach in the same manner that traditional teachers do and even teachers with the right motivation and modern belief systems for their students are unable to provide quality learning experiences. They trust they have no authority to influence what universities believe and want. They find it difficult to think beyond the pre-defined structure by the university of teaching and learning stages for students.

And it’s quite saddening how so many teachers are pretty much told how to go about teaching. It isn’t that they don’t care; it’s simply a human defense factor at work. They have insecurities of their own, and they are sick of reaching and having their hand slapped, so they do what they’re being told.

There is no reason teachers won’t do what they are told and be amazing, but if we take a moment and think about our best teachers, we would find they did what needs to be done and managed to meet their students’ learning needs more than anything else.

How can teachers get there?

One cannot, after all, please everybody. The ability to please everybody is a charismatic quality that people either have or do not have. However, there are some ways that teachers can consider taking. Teachers need to learn to speak up for themselves, voice their opinions, and tell their truth. They need to go slow when developing curriculum and instruction and should give students just enough to get them started, then get out of their way. Then, look for new strategies, tools, and technologies. Moreover, teachers can take the local community as their audience. They can involve parents, community members, leaders, staff, and citizens in the learning activities. This will encourage students to see things from a different lens. Moreover, teachers should stay ahead of the curve. They need to be a team player, respect and love their administrators and peer teachers. They don’t need to be defiant. They need to be clever. And most importantly, they need to remember not to do what they’re told, but to do what’s necessary.