I remember long years ago a university graduate who was unable to distinguish between seat and sit. Then I asked myself “isn’t that a deficiency of not having a dictionary?”. If he had had a dictionary or borrowed one, it is a question of looking it up, perhaps, privately to know that while one is the object, the other is the action.
My title of this piece may be viewed as both a metaphor and realism. In reality, a teacher (an ideal teacher) is someone much revered as custodian of knowledge and facilitator of learning; one who can decipher meanings of gargantuan expressions; one who is deeply versed in literature, science or theories; someone who has undergone pedagogy, science of teaching; one who can easily pick holes in something. Not the richest in terms of materialism but robust in intellectualism and teaching of a particular idea or philosophy, a teacher stands out and tall. As a metaphor, a teacher here represents individual personality in a profession or vocation—teacher or farmer; doctor or carpenter; tailor or engineer; fisherman or hawker; photographer or motor mechanic; electrician or post master; cobbler or driver; lawyer or printer; an architect or a footballer; an endless list abounds.
In this context, a teacher’s dictionary is the tool of his trade. Hence, a teacher without dictionary (because he has to communicate words, phrases, clauses and sentences, at least and irrespective of his discipline) is likened to a farmer without lands and implements; a GP without stethoscope and sphygmomanometer; a surgeon without surgical pack and other appurtenances; a carpenter without hammer and saw; a tailor without scissors (and sewing machine!); a fisherman without trawler and nets; a photographer without camera; a motor mechanic without spanners and screw drivers; a post master without mails; a driver without automobile ; an architect without drawing board and tracing papers; a broadcaster without script; a trader without capital and many others in their trade.
In truth, many teachers of today do not possess dictionaries. I don’t know why. Aversion to reading culture? Yes, yes—I remember. I can assert this both as a former classroom/subject teacher and now a parent and professional writer. Based on my practical and participant observation, there are two simple reasons. One, many teachers—in fact, this cuts across elementary, secondary and tertiary level—only recycle what they have memorised over the years—in our clime. So, to them, what is the need to unravel novelty of any word or expression? Second is materialism. So many of our teachers today have only read to pass their examinations not to impact real knowledge. When you engage certain teachers in intellectual discussions, it shows. You can easily pick holes (quite unlike teachers who know their onions and speak with authority). Others find themselves in teaching jobs simply because there are minimal job opportunities all over the place. After all, the quality of what we produce as graduates of higher learning today is a testimony—half baked stuffs.
Once I was a teacher in a Montessori school where, at a point, the director of school had to sanction any teacher without his or her own dictionary permanently placed on their table. The simple reason was that there were terrible spelling mistakes committed by teachers in their notes of lesson as they did not bother to check or crosscheck what they wrote for students. These errors reflected in pupils’ notes. It also got to a stage parents were taking note of the wrong spellings in their wards’ notes. Pro-actively, the school management had to organise, in-house, compulsory training for all staff members on uses of the dictionary and allied courses.
Teachers without dictionaries epitomises the so-called ‘educated’ people—in this context, those who have acquired from secondary to tertiary education— that do not cultivate the reading habit after school. To this large chunk of people, they are through with education as evident in their not reading any longer. With them are the old, anachronistic ideas that they have absorbed many years before graduating from school.
It starts from school children with lazy attitude of complacency. Today, many children will prefer to be on Facebook, to gossip, to reading/researching a page or two daily on The Internet for productive knowledge. This scourge is worse among our university or polytechnic undergraduates!
Certainly many of our teachers today assume that the dictionary is only a repository of stupendous words and so, it is meant for those who need such words. On the contrary, apart from explaining original and connotative meanings of words, the dictionary has other important uses.
A dictionary will guide the user on the brand of English spellings— British or American. Thus we find spellings like colour, centre, calibre, counsellor, grey, succour (British spellings) and color, center, calibre, counsellor, grey, succor (American spellings) respectively.
It also guides on pronunciation, grammar, word formation, synonyms and antonyms, prefixes and suffixes, word collocation, literary devices, word origin (whether Greek, Latin, Arabic or French), idiomatic expressions, literary devices (such as metaphor, simile, hyperbole etc) and collocation.
To an appreciable extent, modern dictionaries treat aspects of communication skills like writing e-mails, memos, circulars, CVs and technical reports in their appendices. So do they highlight the world maps and continents.