Teachers: The Decisive Element

Haim Ginott

I just came across this wonderful quote by teacher and child psychologist Haim Ginott from his book, Teacher and Child.

I have come to a frightening conclusion.
I am the decisive element in the classroom.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.

I was lucky growing up in that I had a number of caring, compassionate teachers. But I also remember my sixth-grade teacher calling me out in front of the whole class for my conservative style of play in the gym during a game of Elimination (in which I finished in second place!). My daughter’s sixth-grade teacher also humiliated her in front of her class. Both instances were completely unnecessary.

I’ve talked to a couple of teachers recently who told me that kids today are far less respectful than my generation was. They said they are constantly challenged in ways that would have been shocking in my day. But still, these are kids we’re talking about, kids who are impressionable and who crave love, support and guidance. Raising and teaching kids is by no means easy, but it may be the most important work we can do.

Here are some more insightful quotes about teaching:

The great end of education is to discipline rather than furnish the mind; to train it to use its own powers, rather than to fill it with the accumulation of others.
Tyron Edwards

It is a miracle the curiosity survives formal education.
Albert Einstein

The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one.
Malcolm S. Forbes

The job of the teacher is to excite in the young a boundless sense of curiosity about life; so that the growing child shall come to apprehend it with an excitement tempered by awe and wonder.
John Garrett

Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.
Roger Lewin

In teaching, it is the method and not the content that is the message . . . the drawing out, not the pumping in.
Ashley Montagu

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
William Arthur Ward

A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.
Thomas Carruthers, Jr.

The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.
Mark Van Doren

What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.
George Bernard Shaw

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats


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8 Responses to “Teachers: The Decisive Element”

  1. ArrVee Says:

    parents are full-time teachers, whether they like it or not, and they teach with eloquence and clarity with their actions, 24×7, for better or for worse.

    teachers could also unwittingly be proxy father/adult figures for kids in search of someone to look up to, especially those from broken or dysfunctional families.

    each of us is unique and has his/her own calling, and the teachers in our lives can only show by example and encouragement how to find our way and realize our potential. We may forget many details of what they taught us, but the encouragement and inspiration they gave us remain with us for a long time.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Very true, ArrVee. My first thought upon reading Ginott’s quote was that the same dynamics apply to parents. And yes, though the specifics of what teachers and parents do for us is often forgotten, it is the caring and love behind those actions that is what stays with us and gives us strength and inspiration.

  3. Barbara Says:

    I spent my career in the classroom and consider that to have been my ‘active’ vocation, writing poetry is the other. I loved teaching, I loved the kids, I love literature. Advanced Placement English Lit./Comp: an absolute joy to teach!

    Education is a vocation, not a job.

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Barbara. I wish every teacher had such a great, upbeat attitude!

  5. mel Says:

    I came from a family of teachers. My maternal grandmother’s sister (who is also my grandmother, of course!) devoted all her life in teaching grade school that’s why she never got married. My aunts and uncles are also teachers. Thus, they thought I would follow their footsteps and take an education degree in college. Although they were disappointed that I did not do what they expected me to do, they respected my decision in taking up a different course.

    During my high school days, I was blessed to have a great English teacher. She graduated Magna Cum Laude when she took up Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education Major in English & Minor in Social Studies and Cum Laude of Bachelor of Law. She was 2nd Place in the then Philippine Board Examination for Teachers (PBET) now Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET). She became not only a mentor but a friend and confidant. She was the one who helped me survive my controversial adolescent period. Aptly named, her name means wisdom as she is full of wisdom. She was the one who introduced me to Shakespeare’s works especially his sonnets, Aesop’s fables and Arabian Nights. She encouraged my reading habits and being a fan of great fiction authors like Robert Ludlum, Stephen King and the late Sidney Sheldon. She was delighted when I showed great interest in literature especially Greek and Roman mythologies. She praised my work as managing editor of our secondary school paper.

    During my college enrollment, she stood up as my guardian since my mother is sick that time and my father was overseas. I was 17 then, a minor thus needs a guardian as the university requires it.
    She was the one who advised me never to give up.

    Sad to say, we lost our contact when I graduated from college and started working.

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You were blessed to have such a wonderful teacher, mel. Why don’t you look her up and reestablish contact? I bet that would make your day and bring some sunshine back into your life!

  7. mel Says:

    I would do that Phil. I heard she’s already a practicing lawyer since she passed the Bar Exam.

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Please do, mel. Do you have any idea how thrilled she would be to hear from you? It would make her day! Every teacher loves hearing from former students who want to tell them what a difference they made in their life! Let me know how it goes!

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