Editor’s Intro: In celebration of World Teacher Day, Mercia Takavarasha, Senior Programmes Officer at Generations For Peace, examines at the components of a qualified teacher. Join her on Twitter for #Globaledchat on Thursday, October 4 at 8pm US Eastern time.
I first entered my own classroom as a fully qualified teacher in 1996. In front of me were a few dozen high school students that hailed from the families of the mining community in which the school was set, about 200 kilometres from Harare, Zimbabwe’s bustling capital.
I was a history teacher, but as a recent graduate myself, I remembered my own school experiences and how they had taught me, usually unintentionally, that the lessons of a classroom’s subject are often not the most important taught or learned. I might have been stepping into a classroom full of students expecting to learn history, but in reality, I was expected to teach them much more.
This is a challenging and, if done correctly, fulfilling, challenge for teachers the world over. Growing up in Zimbabwe, I attended six primary and secondary schools in various settings: rural schools in locations like Chivi, a district in south-central Zimbabwe far removed from any large towns or cities; urban schools set in high-density suburbs; and a formal institution, designed as a boarding school for secondary school students.
If you remove the city names or the country in which I was raised, different students around the world will likely understand my experiences at each school—the first provided the fewest opportunities, as it was removed from resources that allowed for extracurriculars and important developmental opportunities; the second brought an increase in the chances to advance academically, socially, and personally, simply due to proximity to resources held in a larger city; and the third had the wealth that afforded its students the necessary measures to take part in a more holistic education.
Walking into my own classroom years later, one major fact resonated with me: the schools had impacted the quality of my education, but the teachers had changed the course of my life. Regardless of which school I had attended—whether rich or poor, rural or urban, black or white—each provided examples of what to do or not to do as an educator.
This is the beauty and pressure that comes with teaching: it is up to us to make up for what a school, district, government, or region lacks—and when we do, the impact we leave can last a lifetime.
After spending 18 years as teacher, I joined Generations For Peace, a youth-led peacebuilding organisation that, though based in Jordan, works in countries like my own Zimbabwe. Since 2008, I have been able to use my experience in the classroom to work alongside teachers across sub-Saharan Africa.
The lessons I have learned not just as a teacher, but in my work with teachers in multiple countries often facing challenging conflict are as broad as they are deep. But if I could summarise all that I’ve learned, it would be as follows:
The quality of a teacher is not based solely on achieved academic qualification, but also on sustained personal engagement.
Proper training, while it does provide the qualifications required to teach and must be made more available on a global scale, does not necessarily create a capable or qualified teacher. The world undeniably needs more educators, but in order to inspire students to take on that role, we need teachers of good quality—those qualified not just by their degrees, but by their actions, mindset, and perspective.
Here are five qualities to help you identify and become a qualified teacher:
A qualified teacher is curious about all things: new and unique ways to communicate, relevant and creative opportunities to become more deeply engaged, and perhaps most importantly, the context and situations of their students individually and as a whole.
This is something that I learned when I was a student myself, when I became a teacher in my own classroom, and when I first began interacting with teachers throughout Africa. The teachers that inspired me to pursue teaching were those who took a deep interest in the lives of their students outside the classroom—who analysed the context, conflict, and community of their students both within and outside of the school setting. My own classroom in one school at which I taught, was composed of both wealthy boarding students and the impoverished children of rural farmers nearby, providing me with the challenge of helping students find worth not just in wealth, but in passions, skills, and talents. Teachers that I work with today in Africa and around the world, work within communities that face high rates of bullying based on class, race, educational level, and more, requiring them to learn the impact of these contexts on each student and on their classroom overall.
This curiosity leads to an awareness of the challenges facing students in their own communities - especially those communities that are vulnerable in nature. Vulnerable populations vary depending on surrounding context, but I’ve found that across the board, there are heightened challenges and increased opportunity for vulnerability with girls, children with disabilities, refugee and migrant children, and poor children living in rural or remote areas. An awareness of this is key to taking action.
With classrooms around the world increasing in diversity—due to wealth, class, race, gender, ethnicity, tribe, setting, or any number of identifying factors being brought into closer proximity to one another—the vulnerability of students has been elevated like never before. While it is, indeed, encouraging to see increasing acceptance in some cultures and communities, we must become and remain aware that the identities of students, or those identities that they have thrust upon them, will provide a challenge for teachers, the most qualified of whom will not only be aware of them, but also know how to respond to them.
That response? Compassion. It’s no secret that teaching is not a job for the impatient. A genuine concern and care for students both on and off a school’s campus is vital if teachers are to build trust in their students through compassion.
Creating a mentality of safety and trust through compassion is something I both learned as a teacher and have continued to see in my work with those still in the classroom. The teachers I work with, whether they’re in Uganda or Nigeria, Sierra Leone or Zimbabwe (and I am certain that this extends to teachers in contexts around the globe), have stressed the importance of ensuring that the classroom is a safe space—one in which students feel safe expressing their thoughts, asking their questions, and being themselves.
Compassion shown by a teacher who is both curious about and aware of their students’ respective contexts is often what sets the tone for such an environment.
What do you do when your school’s budget doesn’t allow for all students to have a textbook? What about when there’s division in your classroom along lines of class, race, or religion?
The innovative mind of a teacher has the potential to solve the underlying problems inherent in a community. Budget is not under our control; nor is prejudice. How we navigate through these challenges is what sets apart a qualified teacher from one who is simply qualified to educate. In my classroom, for example, when not all students had a textbook, we used breakout sessions in which teams of students would teach the class about a particular section so that everyone could learn, even without a textbook in each hand.
Teachers around the world are constricted by many things that are out of their control—the response they have to this and the creativity they use to address these challenges is a large part of what qualifies a teacher to leave deeper and greater impact on their students.
Finally, a teacher is responsible for bringing unity to a classroom that, especially when working with a vulnerable population, will allow students to learn and grow, both without distraction and with the benefit of understanding the varying perspectives and backgrounds that add dynamism to the classroom.
The teachers I work with today, when facing division in the classroom, have implemented innovative activities, often inspired by the Generations For Peace programming in which they are involved, to address this. The use of specially designed activities have brought unity to students across Africa and around the world, whether divided along lines of nationality, class or opportunity, and even gender.
Today, in the face of a rapidly growing youth population and an increasing need for teachers to educate them, it is more important than ever before to be a qualified teacher—not just on paper, but in practice, as well. In doing so, we can inspire a quickly growing youth population to turn around and teach those behind them, building a brighter future.
The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.