A tale of two transformational teachers

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·Reading and writing habits from secondary school

There’s an early morning affirmative activity at the Petits Scholars International (for preschoolers) at East Legon, Accra. As a prelude to begin the day, each child mounts a short platform and following the teacher’s prompts, the kids repeat assertive statements written behind the platform: “I am loved. I am kind. I am unique. I am honest …” After the final affirmation, they jump down from the platform in celebration.

Such affirmations serve as mantras, and they may sustain children way into productive adulthood. Everybody needs nourishment and validation; and what better way to start than from childhood!

On being validated

As a greenhorn at Mfantsipim school, I remember a British teacher of English by the name of Mr John Coward. We had not yet met that first term, but he had read an essay I had written in an exam he was marking and asked one of his form one pupils to bring me to him. Now in his presence, he took a cursory look at me, and asked, pointing to my paper, “Is this your work?”

When I responded in the affirmative, he said, “You write quite well.”

Right there a puff of strength blew through me as the creative power of my imagination in the essay was validated. On the surface the teacher’s words were benign enough, but grounded with such certainty, they caused a sea change in my self-esteem. That faith kept giving as a perpetual source of inspiration and paved my literary road into the future.

That was about three scores ago but still, like a bell, it tolls to this very day. Teachers (like good parents) are potentially endowed with a sacred responsibility for the children under their care. It’s not a small responsibility; they can make or break a person. If you are lucky, you meet a real life angelic figure; if not, you are cast to the wind, for better or for worse

Mr W.C. Dwamena

I continue to feel particularly indebted in my formative years at Mfantsipim to yet another teacher: the immaculately dressed Mr W.C. Dwamena. He taught English in Form Two and introduced the class to reading for pleasure on Friday afternoons. He brought with him a mobile library consisting of a “chop box” full of books. The class took turns selecting from that array, while he supervised our reading list.  He dressed well to match the spotless standards he expected of the class.

Equally important, he demonstrated the power of concentration; that is to say, we dared not disturb him when he himself was absorbed in his own quiet reading; he expected the same concentration of everybody else.

I read many novels through my teenage years to see how great writers write. My reading culture began through novelists like Charles Dickens, Peter Cheney, Ian Fleming, Dennis Wheatley, and Thor Heyerdahl’s “The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas.’’

The African writers included Camara Laye, Chinua Achebe, Alan Paton, Peter Abrahams, and James Ene Henshaw’s “This is our chance”.

The ones that shook me by storm were the allusive novels by Cyprian Ekwensi (Jagua Nana); D.H. Lawrence (Lady Chatterley’s Lover); and, Alberto Moravia (The Woman of Rome).

I read endlessly for nourishment, feeding off the great writers, sucking literary manna from an open heaven dripping in abundance for sheer joyfulness.

From good to great

Good teachers have decent management skills with appropriate instructional strategies coupled with the pertinent learning materials to make expectations happen. Additionally, they are punctual, disciplined, and confident in their own skin. Yet still, the masters of these abilities are not necessarily transformational teachers; those skills are merely the foundations that support one’s own competence and readiness for the task of teaching.

Great transformative teachers, however, have a way of motivating their students beyond the mundane. They lead by instilling a feeling that all learners are special, and that they must all excel. They are on a mission to effect great changes in the people they teach; their passions and convictions allow each individual to enter as they are but for each to exit as a much larger personality, with a capacity for continuous lifelong growth. Such teachers are made of heavenly stuff.

Their finer instincts, attitudes and behaviours are rooted in the core of their nature, especially in the ability to lift students out of their ordinary selves into superior selves: The magic is in the flair for transforming others. Change does not happen in a vacuum; it happens inside people; so, in order to make a difference in someone’s life, a transformative teacher knows how to incite a useful change within the individual, by bolstering each person according to their own inner strengths and possibilities. Many people stagger into adulthood painfully aware of what their weaknesses or failings are, but without the foggiest idea of what their strengths might be.

Transformational teachers

Generally, transformational teachers are passionate about their own subjects and committed to their vocation; they may be labeled as visionary, alert, dynamic, enthusiastic, and optimistic. Better still, rather than selfishly keep those powerful qualities to themselves, they spread the traits out like wild open fires and affect infinite changes in other people.

A transformative teacher tends to take learners to places where they could not have gone by themselves. Such teachers are driven by a strong set of values, and a radiant sense of mission and responsibility. It is fair to say that when learning institutions, at all levels, are looking for a turnaround or the need to stay ahead of the times, transformational teachers are what they instinctively crave.

Most people’s psychological imbalances arise from their lack of acceptance and affirmation from teachers and parents. We tend to suffer or glow in direct response to our self-image. Nothing is as hard to do as changing bleak outward behaviours, especially when they emanate from gloomy inner feelings.

We are what we are made to think of ourselves, or what we are made to suffer within the deep recesses of our inner core. Rich memories stem from emotionally rich encounters, and transformative teachers ensure that the memories the youth access in the future are vivid, serene and empowering.

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

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