When I was conducting a lecture, a frightening thought crossed my mind. Here, I thought, I was delivering wisdom to young men and women, who would be the future leaders of the country. I had to be on my best behaviour, not only with regard to the contents of the lectures but with every phrase I use.

A teacher is a showcase and a reference to his students and I always remind myself of the awesome responsibility. I cannot help likening myself to a preacher delivering a sermon where every word - on and off the record - might be disastrously misinterpreted. Of course, it puts immense pressure on your shoulders, since you feel you are in the spotlight and under constant intellectual scrutiny of your students. A slip of the tongue or a misplaced word is unthinkable - and a mistake that might have serious repercussions, immediate or in the future.

Lessons come from the textbooks and are carefully prepared. However, the vessel that delivers them has to be guided and navigated with great care as it sails through its destination. It is not ideal to leave such vessel at the mercy of the wind and hope that it would get there. Some phrases are in the habit of hanging in limbo and could never satisfy the objective. You might easily lose your focus and wander into the wilderness of words.

I did just that, only last week, and that is why I am writing this column.

It was a typical academic day and I put on the captain’s hat and embarked on the teaching expedition. It was a complicated subject and I knew from their faces that I was not making much sense to them. I asked the students to take a break, while I tackled the problem.

I was in ‘stormy waters’, I told myself, ‘and the vessel needs direction’. I put two practical questions before them that were synonymous to the subject, in the hope that the answers would give them guidance.

I now wish I had not done that.

The answers misled them, but the tragic thing was: I thought that the vessel had finally ‘reached its destination’. I could not have been more wrong. Practically speaking, they were still in that ship, while I was home and dry - or so I thought! I learned a valuable lesson there - that you can easily leave a lasting impression on someone who looks up to you.

That frightening thing is that I can still vividly recollect all my teachers, who taught me over different stages of schooling. They were those about whom I still have some reservations, and those I still revered. I come across some of them now and my respect for them has never diminished.

One or two of them have left lasting impressions on me, and I can attribute my writing of this column now to one of them. It is frightening because I now wonder what kind of impression I would leave on my own students 20 years from now. There were times that I used to hang on to every word my teachers said, because a teacher is a guide to student’s future life.

Do I weigh every word now before I let it escape my lips? It would be exaggerating to say I do that, and I would certainly be intimidated every time I stepped into a classroom. However, it would help if I choose my words, and especially the synonyms! Teaching is, indeed, fun and can be very enjoyable, but only if you never let the ‘wind take over the sailing of the ship’.

n    The writer is an Oman-based freelance columnist. This article has been reproduced from the Khaleej Times.