This week was Teacher Appreciation Week and I think that sparked a lot of posts and comments related to the question “What Makes a Great Teacher?” I have had a number of great teachers (or what I felt were great teachers) through my formative years and have had the pleasure of working alongside great teachers during my 11 years as a teacher. So many politicians are looking for ways to get “bad” teachers out of the classroom and reward good teaching, but so much of what they want to do is based on statistical data like test scores and student improvement. The problem is real teaching isn’t necessarily tangible. When I think about all of the teachers that I truly respect, they all have the following characteristics:
- Let the students be themselves and tap into those natural abilities. I loved projects because they let me go above and beyond and test out ideas that were bouncing around in my head. I remember dressing as Clarence Darrow to give a speech, creating a video for History back when there was no video editing software, creating sparklers in Chemistry.
- Treat students with respect and as the adults you want them to become. I hate when I hear a teacher say “you kids need to quiet down!” If you want respect, you have to give respect. If you call a teenager a “kid” they will act like it.
- Be willing to admit that you are wrong. We are all human so we all make mistakes. Admit that your way is not the only/best way or admit that you don’t know the answer and will look it up and the students will respect you so much more for it.
- Enthusiasm and passion are more important than instructional ability. One of my favorite teachers in HS was so boring–every day we took notes from the overhead except lab days in which we did lab. Every day, same routine. But he loved his job and that shined through in everything he did. It no longer mattered how boring the topic was or how tired I was, I was more attentive because of the passion he brought to the job.
- Embrace technology. I was the first person on my street with a personal computer. I spent many hours on the computer playing games, learning DOS and learning to type. It pained me through school when I was required to hand-write a report because I felt there was a better way. When I did my student teaching, we had brand-new CBLs with probes that the teachers never took out of the shrink wrap because they said they were just too complicated to use. Technology and the changes to education it is causing are not going away so we need to embrace it and make it work better for us.