Reflecting on the Importance of Teachers in Society

Students, seated in class while observing social distancing measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus, pay attention to their mask-clad teacher in Phnom Penh on September 7, 2020, as schools reopen across the country. (Photo: AFP)
  • Sao Phal Niseiy
  • October 5, 2020 11:02 AM

Today we are celebrating Teacher’s Day to express our appreciation as well as gratitude to every teacher across the world.

Today, I’m writing to honor the importance of World Teachers’ Day and to pay tribute to all teachers, especially my father, who is also a teacher. Growing up with a geography teacher as a father in Cambodia is something I want to share.

My father has spent over three decades teaching after he took up the career in 1983. It was a time when Cambodia still severely lacked human resources after the Khmer Rouge Regime collapsed in 1979. There remained only a small number of teachers and intellectuals, while more than 90 percent of schools were destroyed. Many classrooms faced resource inadequacy and the teaching had to go beyond proper classrooms.

Joining hands with other teachers, my father contributed to re-establishing the whole education system. He did this with the firm belief that education holds the key for rebuilding nations. His contribution didn’t end there—he continues to teach today and Cambodia’s education system has been significantly improved. 

He excels at both teaching and being a father, although he earns less as a high school teacher and has had to work long hours to make ends meet, he has never given up on the values of his career. He has succeeded in providing for our family and supporting both myself and my brother financially and mentally throughout our upbringing and education.

Despite facing immense hardships given the low pay, he—like many teachers worldwide—has spared no effort to teach his students all he knows, offering them aspiration to expand their knowledge and grow. Teachers, who I would say are equivalent to parents, make any sacrifice to light up the lives of their students.

A lesson worth learning from my father is his non-stop love for learning. He continuously acquires new knowledge to ensure that he can better help his students. He is always upgrading his teaching methodology to guarantee he meets best practices.

But this year my father retires. After teaching for 37 years, retiring for him is more than just not working, but it brings up something difficult to explain—once a teacher, you’re forever a teacher.

On the first day that he no longer needed to teach, I asked him how he felt.

“Not teaching is oddly boring, so I need to find other things to do to relieve such a feeling,” he told me.

Even though teachers sacrifice a lot, sadly teachers like him rarely receive praise for their students' success and take the blame for the students' failures. Still today, teaching is regarded as a low value career choice due to the associated salary.

Despite all these hardships and perceptions, teachers never lose hope to move forward. They never back down from their mission to develop the education system and to create more human capital for society.

All in all, what I want to emphasize is that I’m proud of everyone who chooses to be a teacher and an educator. To me, teachers are more than just instructors who help navigate life. But they also play the role of enablers who impart knowledge and ensure their students understand what they’re learning so they can use these lessons for the future.

That is how they create responsible and knowledgeable citizens in society and they also create a future for a society and a country at large.

During times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes increasingly obvious that teaching is thoroughly challenging. Furthermore, the pandemic has shown us how indispensable teachers are and has highlighted the urgency with which they need more support, attention and appreciation.

Without them, we would not be who we are today. Without them, we can never grow intellectually and emotionally. And without them, our society would become meaningless.    

Therefore, I am confident we will continue to hold the spirit of respect and appreciation for all teachers. Happy World Teachers’ Day and best wishes to them. 

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