How do I know?
How do I know that I have been a good parent? How, for that matter, do I know I have been a good teacher? These are questions as a teacher and a parent I constantly ask myself. As a Headmaster I also ask how do I know when I have been a good Headmaster?
There are no score sheets or exams for parents and teachers. Yes there are evaluation processes for teachers but they are fallible and so this is a question I feel all teachers and parents have to constantly ask themselves – how do I know when I have done my job well?
Sitting in our hall today are a number of young Old Boys, some of whom have started families and will be looking at their children with hope and expectation. For some of them that moment may still come. Sitting here today is our teaching complement of just on 100 teachers who, I hope, ask themselves this question all the time as they face other people’s children on a daily basis with a responsibility to guide, nurture and lead. For the majority of you, parenthood is many years hence but you are being faced by teachers and parents every day and so you must have a direct vested interest in this question. How can your teachers and parents be the best they can be? And how will they know when they have got it right?
When I was teaching more that just the one class, I used to take the same class through from Grade 9 to Grade 12. When I started with these young men, I said to them what I say to every class I teach now. “Seated amongst you are young men who are much cleverer than I am. Some of you are much nicer people, with better values. Some of you are kinder and more thoughtful but as I am your Maths teacher, let us look at Mathematics as a start. Many of you are much better at Maths than I am – you may just not know it yet. I hope you will soon. You see, what I have as an advantage on you now is experience – that is all. You have potential and, with experience and hard work, that potential will allow you to outstrip me and my ability. You may not be able to solve quadratic equations now but you will soon and then they will become easy. The greatest achievement I can have as your teacher is when you become better than me.”
So to answer the question I posed above, I believe that as teachers and parents our single biggest motivator is to make our children better people and better students than we are. Our purpose must be to help those we influence be better than we are.
When my own children do things that amaze me and fill me with pride – things I cannot do and have not done – I feel worthy as a parent because I have helped them become better. When I student I taught goes on to study further in the subject I taught him and develops his career around the subject, I feel a sense of great pride. When people, be they children or students, become better that my generation is, then we have done what we were tasked with doing.
One of the reasons I get very angry with lazy students, people who want to know the answers and copy other’s research, is that they have no interest in getting better. If we all relied on today’s knowledge, the human race would stagnate and die. There would be no innovation, no discovery, no advancement in technology or medicine and our world would go backwards. If we do not as parents and teachers encourage and sometimes force our children to strive beyond that which we show them, if as students and children you do not grasp every chance you have to push harder and further, then we will spiral downwards in a world of mediocrity.
So – my job is not only to help you become the best version of yourselves but to help you become better than me. Don’t be content with what “is” – think about what “might be”. My future depends on it.
A few thoughts from others….
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”
“Acquire knowledge: it enables its possessor to distinguish right from the wrong, it lights the way to heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless – it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an ornament among friends and an armor against enemies.”
Proverbs 18 verse 15
“The heart of the prudent gains knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.”