Ask anybody who a teacher is. Either, you will end up hearing the stock definition of the word, or the character profile of a person.
From the compendium of traits used to describe teachers, I choose two for the purpose of a little taxonomy.
Subject-oriented and student-oriented.
These traits, while not mutually exclusive, carry their own individual import.
To the subject-oriented teacher,
You know that your job demands dignity, prestige, respect. You want silence to enter the classroom with you and stay there until you’re gone. You have expectations. You want to prove to your peers that you’re primo.
Those people who listen to you, you appreciate their respect because you know you need it. Your foursquare refusal for your class to be second to any other is evident in your methodologies.
You’re particular about not letting a minute unpunctuated by all things academic slip by. Those people you teach need to get it right down to the last comma and period.
Your knowledge is awed, your instruction is flawless, your evaluations just, your admonishments firm.
Small talk narks you, tangential discussions nettle you.
For you, teaching is a revered profession that should not be subverted by feelings of affection and attachment.
You’re concern for your subordinates is limited to their ability to fill those blanks right, conjugate every last verb flawlessly, and to show them the way to go on the scholarly ladder – up, up and only up.
You know where to draw the line, you know what is expected of you, you know what can varnish and what can vitiate your repute.
You are plumed when you are complimented for your professional conduct, your top-drawer classes.
You give your job your all. You’re satisfied with how you do it. You pride yourself in being a good educator.
To the student-oriented teacher,
You know that teaching has an ambiguous meaning. You have your string of degrees, you have a comprehensive knowledge of your subject, but for you, the former isn’t what you use to get respect and the latter isn’t the only thing you are meant to impart.
You want your “kids” to listen to you, and so you bring yourself down to their level. You listen to them. You tell them about yourself. You let them know that you’re as human as they are. Mature, astute and seasoned as you are today, it has not slipped your memory that you were once like them.
Your knowledge commensurates with your humility; the former blows your kids’ minds, the latter touches their hearts. You’re someone who dispenses advice like a therapist, who understands the soup of teenage feelings like a mother, who unabashedly high-fives your kids in the corridors like a friend.
You want to make sure that they know their spellings, articles and prepositions, but what’s more important to you is to you is for them to know they are valued not by the number or the letter on their answer scripts that attests to their performance, but for who they are as people.
You don’t see your kids as workers in a mark-generating factory. They’re not just names on a roll, faces you see thrice a week.
You know that that being a friend isn’t a requirement for the job and the monthly paycheck, but that’s who you want to be to those children because when they lay themselves down to sleep at night, you know they’re not going to think about the right usage of l’imparfait and le passé composé, but about what made them smile, what disappointed them.
You’re concerned about the child whose life isn’t rosy, you talk to the one who seems aloof, you boost the one who doesn’t know what she’s worth, you make them all feel special in their own way.
It means something to you to mean something to someone. You cherish your kids’ love for you and you’re not loth to reciprocate it, well aware that life is shaped by all the love a person received or didn’t.
You know the unspoken principle of being a teacher which is not to prepare kids for examinations of some import, but to prepare them for the long road of life that lies ahead of them.
You know that you’ve done your job right not when you see that perfect score, but when your kids let you know they’ve learned something from you to last a lifetime.
In all the ways you’ve taught by example, in all the times you cared to look beyond the textbook and the answer leaves, in all the memories you made with the kids who weren’t yours but whom you treated like your own, there lies the nobility, the true passion, the real essence of your profession.
(Dédicace: Prof, c’est pour vous, ma source d’inspiration, mon enseignante préférée. Je t’aime tellement.)