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Teachers in Saudi Arabia: Purveyors of our bright future

ALTHOUGH TEACHER’S DAY in Saudi Arabia isn’t unit Feb. 28, the principle behind this international movement to recognize teachers deserve some reflection at any time of year. The social importance of teachers can hardly be exaggerated. That statement may come as a surprise to some, who consider a teacher’s role to be limited to the classroom, and the care and management of students within it. Of course, that is precisely what takes up most of a teacher’s day — but his or her role extends far beyond that. Good teachers create and nurture a brighter future for our children and our entire society.
Many students go through their scholastic career without giving much thought as to how and why teachers know what they know. Obtaining a higher degree in education is just the start, given that most teachers learn continuously throughout their careers. Our understanding of how students learn, and what needs to be learned, is never static, and at present it may be changing more than ever before. For this reason, most teachers should devote many hours to professional development. Their job does not end when the students leave the classroom — in some ways, that’s just the beginning. Seminars and independent research allow teachers to develop their technique and approach, and this in turn is what can account for the difference between how students were taught a generation ago, and how they are taught now.
We simply have a much keener understanding of the processes and challenges facing students of all ages. Moreover, in order to raise citizens who will be competitive in an increasingly globalized world, this new awareness is absolutely necessary. A generation ago, we were taught by repetition. The teacher at the head of the classroom imparted information which students, with varying degrees of success, imbibed and regurgitated on demand. Those who were successful at doing so were rewarded, and little allowance was made for the very real individual differences in learning style. In the modern classroom nothing could be further from this essentially passive, one-size-fits-all approach. Current education research points to the importance of multiple, integrative and participatory approaches to learning. A breakdown of skills, objectives and learning styles allows teachers to tailor lessons to meet their students’ needs — not the other way around. This may well be more rewarding for teachers, but there’s no doubt that it involves a very high degree of caring, understanding, and work on the part of the educators.
The modern approach to learning is the catalyst for what some have called a renaissance in creativity, scholarship and innovation. And as they are learning about and integrating new techniques, are teachers are also, to some degree, inventing them. Allowing our students to compete in an international setting by no means entails turning our back on the past. The traditional values and knowledge that teachers in our country have always imparted to students are still there. But it’s up to teachers to teach these values in such a way that they come alive in the minds and hearts of our younger generation.
It’s imperative that we value our teachers as the dedicated professionals that they indeed are. That’s the purpose of Teacher’s Day — but the appreciation of teachers bears thinking about on any day.

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