Every Child Deserves a Favorite Teacher

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On World Teachers' Day, Caitlin Vaka reflects on the centrality of teachers to the Sustainable Development Goals.

What do you remember about your favorite teacher? Maybe you remember their passion for the subject they taught, the way they pushed you to accomplish something that you thought was outside of your capabilities, or the way they probably were tough on you at some point, helping you grow when it felt most difficult. What you probably remember most is how they made you feel.

I have vivid memories of my favorite teacher. I was a senior in high school, stressed about applying to college, and ready to break out of where I had grown up. Needless to say, I was less than adequately motivated for the day-to-day work of school. Sister Anne had other ideas. She demanded more than simply showing up to class, but that we take what we were learning and apply it outside the walls of the classroom. She was tough, strict, and honest, speaking with such conviction that we had no option but to listen. Sister Anne pushed my thinking and actions in my social justice class. She urged me to think creatively, showed me that my ideas for how I fit into “changing the world” were worthwhile, and made me believe that I really had the power to make a difference if I put in the work to do so, and convinced me that education could be a real catalyst for change. All students deserve to have a teacher who makes them feel this way.

Quality education for all is “the foundation for improving people’s lives and sustainable development”; according to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN defines education as essential for real and sustainable development. While access has been drastically improved, from 83 percent when the Millennium Development Goals were first established to the 91 percent of children in primary school today, emphasis needs to be placed on quality. The puzzle of achieving quality education consists of many complex pieces, but at the center of it all are well-trained and competent teachers who are able to support and push their students.

World Teachers’ Day is an opportunity to not only celebrate our teachers, but to call for this level of quality for all students. Quality teachers are essential to quality education, and systems need to be put in place and strengthened in order to prepare and support these teachers.