“Make strong emotional links with your students. First, talk to their hearts, empathize; talk with them about their lives, their expectations. Don’t care if you don’t talk about the main subject of your class. That will come after. ” Antonio Tavares – Portugal

After earning a degree in engineering and being unable to find an engineering job, Antonio Tavares became a teacher. As it turned out, he found his true calling in education and, 30 years later, Tavares is still transforming students’lives.  Although he teaches technical courses, Tavares stresses the importance of focusing first on his students’emotional and social needs. Here, he shares his views on the holistic role of a teacher and the importance of connecting with students on a personal level.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

I teach electronics and computer maintenance as part of technical and professional courses. The age of my students varies from 15 to 20 years. Most of them come from social levels that experience a lot of difficulties, families in need and living in communities that don’t give them the best support. We live in difficult times and some of these kids are really heroes. Beyond all the difficulties, they make an effort to become better people and we do our best to help them. Sometimes we fail, but sometimes we can change their lives.

When you teach a technical area (that the students have chosen) you expect better results. I agree that teachers have a difficult task when they teach more theoretical subjects, like philosophy, for instance. But I think that if you teach with your heart, sooner or later you will achieve better results. So, we must talk to them, feel their problems and share their concerns.

Practical classes are of the utmost importance. Linking theory to practice is the strongest way to teach. It’s not always possible, but we teachers must make an effort to create new ways of teaching young people that come from difficult social environments.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

Motivation and self-esteem. As a result of their achievements, my students become more involved, they gain confidence in their work and the good results that follow give them the idea that they can do the same in other areas of study. They become more proud of their achievements and their self-esteem has improved a lot.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

It’s not easy to extrapolate to other areas of teaching, like more theoretical ones, but I think we can underline the following: Make strong emotional links with your students. First, talk to their hearts, empathize; talk with them about their lives, their expectations. Don’t care if you don’t talk about the main subject of your class. That will come after. Don’t patronize them but be affirmative and positive in your statements. Give them your perspective of their problems. Be firm when administrating discipline inside and outside the classroom. After that, only after that, try to teach the core subject of your class. After talking to their hearts, talk to their minds. Always keep hearts and minds balanced. I think this is a good way to start.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

As a teacher of electronics and informatics I am a lucky person. My work implies the use of technology and a permanent adaptation to new discoveries and new perspectives in that area.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are
receiving a quality education?

Social issues. Unemployment, broken families and difficult communities. In spite of recent budget restrictions one must act on teacher information as well as promoting the widespread use of technologies.

What is your country doing right to support education?

Investing in the improvement of the central core of education: Portuguese and Mathematics. Maintaining widespread Internet access in all schools.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

More training and widespread access for teachers in new technologies. Implement technological innovations in schools.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Give a tablet PC to every child with their school books, free notebook software, like OneNote, for instance, and free Internet access. Find new ways to use cheap technology to improve teaching. Support the use of tablet PCs in education.  And the use of cellphones as a useful teaching tool.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Teach with your heart. Empathize with your students, support them, but don’t act like them. Sometimes some of us are willing to do this. That’s a big mistake. They expect you to be a teacher, so you must act like a teacher. Work closely with your fellow teachers and listen to them. But don’t forget that you are unique. You can make the difference. Believe in yourself and, above all, don’t be afraid. Do not be afraid of making mistakes.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

Online learning. Learning anytime, everywhere, not depending on where you are or what time it is. Learning by cell phone, computer, tablet PC, video game console, TV set. Learning using whatever medium you choose.

And for teachers: teach where you can, when you can.
In the near future the concept of school will be profoundly transformed. With the emergence of cloud services with such powerful tools as Office 365 for Education, for instance, one can expect that a change in the core paradigms of education will occur very soon.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

A tablet PC with all the school books, free notebook software and a free Internet connection with a cloud service. When we see the young kids with their (heavy!) backpacks full of books and notebooks, going every day to school, we always think there is a better solution. With a tablet PC our students will certainly learn in a more fun and efficient way.

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About Antonio Tavares

Birthplace: Lisbon, Portugal
Current residence: Almada, south side of river Tagus, facing Lisbon
Education: Masters degree in Electronic Engineering.
Website I check every day: http://www.howstuffworks.com/
Person who inspires me most: Salgueiro Maia. A Portuguese army captain. Once upon a time he dreamed of a peaceful revolution. After doing that he retired. He
never accepted any political role. When asked about his role in the Portuguese revolution he says: “I swore on my honor that I would see it through to its end. For this I would give my soul—my life.” He died in 1992.
Favorite childhood memory: Soccer matches in the streets of Almada, after school. Always and every day the champions of the world (of our world…).
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Algarve, always Algarve. The sun, the sea and the sardines…
When was the last time you laughed? Why? When I was writing the above line. Life is great. Beyond all difficulties keep smiling, keep positive, keep focus.
Favorite book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Favorite music: “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin.
Your favorite quote or motto: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Shakespeare

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