What makes a good teacher?

Positive traits - The quality of teachers in schools has been a longstanding issue.

The Education Ministry's plan to ensure all teachers are graduates by 2020 has sparked yet another debate on whether graduates necessarily make better teachers. Chandra Devi Renganayar finds out from retired teachers

ONE need not be a graduate to be a good teacher, says William Doraisamy, a retired school principal with more than 33 years' teaching experience.

A paper qualification shows a person is knowledgeable in an area of study but that does not necessarily mean that he or she will be in a better position to teach.

"A paper qualification will not ensure a teacher's competency and effectiveness in the classroom.

Throughout my service as a teacher and headmaster, I have seen non-graduate teachers who did a better job at teaching and guiding children.

They trained students to excel in academics as well as sports. These teachers contributed to the rise of some of Malaysia's great names in sports.

"They were willing to spend their time and money to help students develop their talent. It also helped that parents then allowed teachers to take charge of their children and encourage them in both sports and studies."

Doraisamy, who joined the teaching profession in 1965 after completing a two-year training programme at the Malayan Teachers College in Penang at the age of 22, said many who became teachers at that time had a passion for teaching and loved children.

To become a teacher in an English-medium school in the 1950s and 1960s, candidates were required to pass the Senior Cambridge (Form Five) examination.

Those with a Senior Cambridge qualification were also able to pursue a teaching course at the Kirkby Teachers' College in England.

For the Malay and Tamil-medium schools, the requirement was a pass in Standard Six. There were also those who joined after completing the Lower Certificate of Examination (Form Three) and Malaysian Certificate of Examination (Form Five).

"Teaching is a labour of love. You must love teaching as well as children, otherwise you cannot be an effective teacher. Basically, quality is affected when a person joins the profession without passion. You do more harm than good.

"These days, many look at teaching as a last resort job option. But having said that, I would like to also stress that it is wrong to say that all teachers during my time were good and all teachers now are not dedicated. We had our share of bad apples," he said.

It also helped that teachers were a well-read lot in those days, said Doraisamy. As most teachers were educated in English, they had access to many reading materials.

In the 1960s, Doraisamy said some teachers were trained on the job via the Regional Training Centres (RTCs).

Selected candidates began teaching in schools for a few hours daily and attended training at the RTCs during weekends and holidays.

"For three years, they were learning to teach while teaching. This group made good teachers as when they were absorbed as permanent staff, they were well prepared to teach. Today, pre-service teachers don't have much practical training.

"Perhaps, we should look at reintroducing this model of training," said Doraisamy.

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