Here I am, standing behind an examination hall full of students seated anxiously in neat rows, looking their best, only dripping in cold sweat, rubbing their sweaty palms together in torment and anguish. No one could be more anxious than these youngsters… beside their teachers. The principal and vice-principal are pacing around in the front of the hall, exchanging sombre and definite glances, visually checking to make sure that every class’ attendance was fulfilled that morning. The PowerPoint slides come on screen and the principal begins to the test the microphone.
Everything the principal says is jibberish until she starts revealing the national examination results, and percentages of students who passed and who earned distinctions at the national examinations that year. The statistics are flashed slide after slide on the big screen, and students squirm and squiggle in their places. As the results are being revealed slowly, some teachers begin to exhale in relief, some clasping their hands in joy at the vast improvements made, and others wallow in great disappointment.
As I picture the above in my mind, happening a few months from now, I asked myself for the first time today, How will I be feeling then?
It will be the first time sending a batch of students to sit for a national examination three weeks from now, and I have no idea how much I have prepared them for the examination, and how well-prepared they are. The anxious ones ask me for their marks to their writings over and over, the numerical grade a reassurance of their current ability, a testament to their potential performance. But what good will the numerical grades do for them, if only as a false, unfounded reassurance… a huge lie to the students?
Teaching this group of students for almost a year is not an easy feat. They are a jolly bunch, true… a jolly bunch who needs to know the concept of time management and responsibility. I had enjoyable pleasurable conversations with these man-boys and ladies, but I also had a fair number of grievous and unpleasant moments with them. When I wallow in self-doubt and worry, the same question seems to pop back into my mind: Have I done what I could?
The underlying assumption of this question is that if I have done whatever I believed I can for these little people, I can only do that much… and I can therefore send them out to fight their battles without any reservation. A soldier has to fight… and he can only be as prepared as he can be. Given the time, the resources, and circumstances. But… is it shirking my responsibility? Truth is, I may not have been as “WOW” enough to blow their minds while these young ones were under my charge. Have I inspired them to enjoy Literature? Well, I have definitely made them clearer of what they academic interests are, of that I am certain.
There are two schools of thought here. One group of people will think that the teacher can do that much, and the student has to do the rest. In other words, if a teacher has done whatever he or she is able to do given the circumstances, without racking or killing himself or herself, no one has the right to heap guilt and criticism upon the teacher if the students failed. The soldiers are trained for battle… but when they do not return from war safely, it is by no means the fault of the officer.
Yet another group of people will think that a teacher’s influence can extend beyond the boundaries of the imagination. A great teacher can work wonders… if he or she were gifted enough or had character enough. If students fail, the teacher must have failed somewhere too.
Where should I place myself between these two schools of thought? I have never felt so uncertain in whatever I do before. Well, yes, maybe when I was writing those Literature essays in University, half-awake, trying to complete them before the stipulated deadline. I never knew what kind of muddy grade I would be getting for those papers. But now what is at stake is so much more than a university paper. Or a person. It is the future of a classroomful of people.
It honestly feel like a burden too great to bear.