There are teachers and then there are teachers. Some people can just relay the world, their experiences, and relevant information better to others. Some people seem to have the moniker “teacher” written on their forehead at birth. Students if they are perceptive can recognize a good teacher from what we might call a “teacher by degree only.”
Good teachers are those that leave a mark on us. With them it isn’t just about spouting information back to you, the call and recall: this John Dewey, blank slate view of education, that the student is just a tablet to write on and so there is no need to make the information relevant to life. Rather, good teachers communicate information through the window of their own experience. They have internalized these facts and are able to show the students through life experiences and story how relevant they actually are.
Story is vital here. The movie, Dead Poet’s Society, comes to mind. Robin Williams character not only taught poetry in this movie, he lived it. It was his life story that came through and inspired these young men to seize the day, to live out their dreams, and to love the written word. When a teacher internalizes facts and these facts inspire them to live their lives in a certain way, to dream certain dreams, to get excited about knowledge and its truths, then it fills the gap that exists between them and the student. It makes a connection. It is this internalizing of knowledge and fusing it with a personal story that makes knowledge not only facts on a whiteboard but makes it romantic, makes it pleasurable, makes it real and desirous. The student cannot help but learn.
The “teacher by degree only” does not seek to engage the student on this deeper level. For them the facts are the facts. They must be learned, but not romanticized. They must be regurgitated but not integrated into the student’s life. Students are seen as microprocessors, input / output machines, that only need to learn information so they can go to college and get a high paying job. They are seen as brains without a body. Facts are abstracted from life. The student usually at this point disengages with the curriculum, for wise students always know that there is more to life than just the brain.
A good teacher can take the driest facts and make them the stuff of beauty. Numbers become magical. Words on a page come alive. A good teacher loves knowledge not because it brings high pay and acclaim, but simply because it is good to live and good to know. Whether good teachers are born or made misses the point: good teachers teach us that knowledge is pleasurable and should be an integral part of people’s lives. This is something everyone needs to learn and perhaps then, they also can better teach this knowledge to others.