“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”  Alexander The Great

 

The first scene of the poignant Turkish/French film Mustang, which in Hebrew was translated into “Wild Girls,” shows the end of the last day of the school year. A beloved teacher is parting from her young students. They stand in line to bid her farewell, and one little girl is crying. The teacher comforts her, asks her to keep in touch and to write to her.

From the comments of the students we gather that the young teacher is moving away from Trabzon, on the Black Sea in Turkey, to Istanbul a 1000 km away.

At the end of the film, the young student, whose life has become unbearable, runs away from home, with her older sister, in order to arrive at the home of her teacher, the only person in the world whom she trusts.

This may seem like an idealistic portrayal of the teacher, but there are numerous examples in life ,and in fiction, of dedicated teachers who devote their lives to their students.

The teacher has an immense role in in forming the personality of the young child. We could all think of  a teacher who believed in us, encouraged us or did not give up on us. Of course we could never forget that teacher.

At the university level the role of the teacher/advisor is different, but even there, especially at the post-graduate level, the advisor is very significant. Sometimes, for the student, the teacher is the only face of the institution, and the bond between the student and the mentor is often deep and meaningful, and could last a lifetime.

A good advisor could not remain distant and polite, in order to get the most out of the student he/she has be a hands-on mentor, which often means: demanding and strict.

In recent years when higher education has become commercialized and compete for students’ money, the ability of the teachers to do their best is compromised. When the  student becomes a client and therefore is always right, teachers are  pressurized to be popular, and popularity is often in contrast to being demanding.  And then there are the dreaded questionnaires, which ask for satisfaction feedback from the students/ customers.

Today being a teacher seems a bit like walking a tightrope. In order not to fall the teacher needs to keep his balance and stays focused. But that is only the beginning, a “real” teacher needs to be courageous, flexible, strong and optimistic.

At the end of a week in which our education system has  joined a reactionary tradition of banning books, for fear of poisoning the minds of our youth, it is easy for teachers to lose faith.

But the reunion at the end of Mustang, which shows that the little girl reached a safe haven at the home of her teacher, restored my optimism and  gave me hope. It reminded me again that no other profession is more important than teaching.