Have you ever encountered a lecturer or teacher who was so unkind that the mere thought of seeing them during class would give you anxiety?

Have you ever shaped your opinion of your capabilities and how your educator perceived you?

Have you ever been so inspired to excel at your studies and future career milestones because your educator or academic mentor believed in you?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, then you know how influential educators are in the lives of their students at tertiary and secondary levels. Teachers help shape their student’s minds, especially at a secondary level, when young people are expected to make many important decisions regarding subject choice and career options.

But what if your teacher is a dud and treats you poorly for no reason? What if your idea of what you can achieve is affected by the negativity of an educator?

As someone who excelled at school but failed Mathematics dismally, I can share a few horror stories about how a hostile and degrading educator impacted my confidence and willingness to learn the hard sciences. I can also reflect on my supportive and kind English teacher who, with his enigmatic demeanour, impacted my choice to take on the social sciences and become a journalist.

Good educators, like my English teacher, can be catalysts for change, but not all of your teachers will inspire you. Just because a teacher may not believe that you’ll succeed in a certain course, subject, or career path doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push yourself to be successful in that field.

If you’re a high school or university student who is struggling to decide on an appropriate career path, here are some factors to consider:

Research/ask questions
Your teachers/lecturers may try to influence your career choices but remember to do your own research and keep yourself informed about the sector.

Consider the feasibility of the study area, job prospects, and the subjects and grades you’ll need to be accepted and potentially obtain funding to study.

Believe in yourself
Don’t allow the negative influences of certain educators to hold you hostage. You are capable of great things. You will eventually find your feet. If you allow others’ negativity to simmer in your consciousness, you will constantly live your life for others.

It is okay to change lanes
Don’t get caught up in the idea that you need to study immediately after completing Grade 12. You don’t have to be 22 when obtaining your first degree or 23 when landing your first internship. You could work after matriculating and study for a few years after that. You may decide to work in a field unrelated to your degree or take on that Bachelor of Laws after achieving your Bachelor of Arts in Journalism – go for it! Nothing should stop you from achieving your dreams, even if those aspirations change over time.

Inspiring educators weigh in
I spoke to two educators who have had a significant impact on my life. Miss Emily Basson was my class teacher at Wittebome High School, and Prof Izak van Zyl was my research supervisor when I completed my Master of Technology in Public Relations and Communication Management at CPUT.

Miss Basson argues that teachers should not be prejudiced towards students because of their perceived academic capabilities:
“Teachers should encourage all students, not only the select few they view as ‘talented.’ This inclusive approach fosters a supportive learning environment where every student can reach their full potential.”

Prof van Zyl notes that lecturers should strive to adopt a humanistic approach toward their students:
“Overall, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, I advocate for an egalitarian approach to educational support.”

Live your life and follow your dreams. Don’t pigeonhole your life because of your educators. If you are determined to succeed, help and support will find you, just like the good teachers always do!

Has any teacher influenced who you are today? How did their attitude impact your life choices?