We had a prevailing joke at teacher’s college:
Those who can, do.
Those who can’t, teach.
Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.
This is very bitter indeed, but, like all nasty jokes, it has some truth in it. Many teachers are in the profession to fill a slot, not to educate.
Everyone one who ever went to school unerringly picks out the great educators. Those were the ones who somehow managed to motivate their students to discover strengths they did not know they had, overcome weaknesses they thought were permanent disabilities, and soar to new and unexplored heights. They were demanding, but they also were encouraging. They had faith in their students, and spoke well of them both to their face and behind their backs. They would accept nothing less than each student’s personal best. When a student messed up, these teachers did not tell them that they were no good. Rather, they let them know that this behavior was unworthy of the fine people they were. They helped their students take responsibility for their actions and face the consequences, and left them feeling that they never NEVER wanted to let themselves or their teacher down again.
What goes into making such a paragon of pedagogy?
Great educators are passionate about teaching. Some people get a buzz from passing on knowledge and skills. They are willing to stop virtually anything else they’re doing for the sheer pleasure of answering a question, demonstrating a task, offering advice, or launching someone into new adventures. They do not hoard what they know or can do, in the hope of bolstering their feelings of superiority. They joyfully squander everything they have to offer, and end up learning even more than they teach.
Great educators are well matched with their students. Some people can’t get enough of small children. Others love teens. A few find the idiosyncrasies of the junior high set fascinating. There are those who prefer boys to girls, octogenarians to young adults, thirty-somethings to those in their twenties. Seasoned professionals will do a good job with any demographic mix, but there are some which turn them on and keep them racing. When work is joy, teachers don’t burn out.
Great educators teach people, not subjects. They are always more interested in the human beings they serve than in the zen of science, art or motor mechanics. They love their teaching specialties and believe that knowledge and skills are vital. But when push comes to shove, the unfolding life of the student is always more important than any academic considerations.
Great educators are secure. They know who they are, what they know, and what they are worth. They have no trouble admitting their ignorance. They are always learning. They are delighted when a student challenges their conclusions or asks a question they can’t answer, and take the time to look for the answers together.
Great educators model the behavior that they want to see. They have nothing but contempt for the “Do as I say, don’t do what I do” school of education. They model respect, consideration, reliability, empathy, helpfulness, and every other virtue they value. They will not ask someone else to do what they would not do themselves.
Great educators are great people. They are the ones we want to keep in touch with, because they will always be interested in our lives and have something interesting to tell us about theirs.
Once a great educator has touched you, you are never the same again.