Wide angle Education

Are best teachers truly exceptional?

Is focusing just on better grades the eligibility criteria for the Best Teacher Award?

Are the best teachers awarded “Best Teacher” awards? What are the characteristics of good teachers? Why are some teachers called exceptional or extraordinary? Almost every year in September, these questions are raised and discussed when Teachers’ Day is celebrated. I have always wondered why some of the finest and incredible teachers do not get the recognition they deserve.

President Ram Nath Kovind presented the National Awards to 46 teachers on September 5 on the occasion of Teachers’ Day. The moment I heard the news, I discussed it with some of my educator friends. I told them that it would be interesting and useful if someone analysed the profiles of such awardees and brought out a document that listed the achievements, exceptional qualities and characteristics that made these teachers achieve what millions of teachers wish to achieve. It would also be revealing why some insignificant contributions of certain teachers were made significant, and why those who do not deserve to be awarded were given the award.


What should be the eligibility criteria for teachers who apply for or who are nominated for such awards? The Global Teacher Prize (GTP) (https://www.globalteacherprize.org) is “a US $1million dollar award, presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession”. The objective of the foundation that established the award is to recognise and celebrate the impact that teachers have around the world — not only on their students, but also on the communities around them. According to the foundation, the top 10 finalists for the GTP 2019 were from all corners of the globe and they teach in remote towns and villages, advocate for inclusivity, child rights, immigrant rights, and nurture their students’ abilities and confidence using music, science and technology.

Franciscan Brother Peter Tabichi, who won the GTP 2019 award, is a science teacher at Keriko Mixed Day School in a village in Kenya. What makes him an exceptional teacher? Brother Tabichi gives away 80% of his income to help the poor. The GTP award organisers state that Peter Tabichi’s “dedication, hard work and passionate belief in his students’ talent has led his poorly-resourced school in remote rural Kenya to emerge victorious after taking on the country’s best schools in national science competitions.”

For the awardee, teaching is a joyful profession. In his words, “Seeing my learners grow in knowledge, skills and confidence is my greatest joy in teaching! When they become resilient, creative and productive in the society, I get a lot of satisfaction for I act as their greatest destiny enabler and key that unlocks their potential in the most exciting manner.”


I prefer the term ‘exceptional teacher’ to ‘best teacher’. From the story of GTP winner Peter Tabichi, and other finalists, one can conclude that they are exceptional teachers and their extraordinary qualities should be celebrated. What are the characteristics of such teachers? Exceptional teachers are different from others in many ways. They are committed to the teaching profession, able to connect with their students well and make a difference in their lives. These teachers are interested in the welfare of their students and the society that they are a part of. They make a positive impact in the community, beyond the classroom. They are models for others in the profession.

According to the Ministry of HRD Department of School Education and Literacy, main considerations that should guide the selection of teachers at various levels include teachers’ reputation in the local community, their academic efficiency and desire for its improvement, their genuine interest in and love for children, and their involvement in the social life of the community.

In India, do we really identify and award exceptional teachers? How many teachers who have been given ‘Best Teacher’ awards have extraordinary qualities? How many of them have made a difference in the lives of their students? How many of them make an impact in the community beyond the classroom?

Many teachers in India remain “institutional teachers” and their contribution is limited only to the institutions where they are employed. Such teachers are obsessed with terms such as ‘coaching’ and ‘pass percentage’. They are quite successful in producing good results and achieving the target set by the school/college authorities. Their focus is on pleasing authorities and doing ordinary things, which are not always ‘noble acts’. They do this assuming that they will be awarded and rewarded by authorities. Such teachers who are loyal to the authorities but not loyal to education cannot inspire young minds. Global teachers are broad-minded, socially conscious, people-centred, and open to new ideas. They celebrate diversity and focus on holistic education. From being an ordinary “institutional teacher” to becoming an incredible “global teacher” should be the noble vision of teachers.

The writer is an academic, columnist and freelance writer. rayanal@yahoo.co.uk

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 12:40:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/are-best-teachers-truly-exceptional/article29415129.ece

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