What makes a teacher great?
As part of the International Women’s Day celebration, I shall highlight the two teachers who influenced me the most while in school.
The first is a high-school teacher. I shall call her Ms. P. Ms. P was an English teacher who also taught a creative writing class. Though I didn’t enjoy her English classes much, I loved her creative writing classes though I spent most of it asleep. She was a quiet lady, who barely spoke above a whisper yet could control the rowdy high-school students. Usually when we were assigned to work in groups in the English classes, our noisy collaborations would mount to a din similar to that at a concert, yet she was able to quell us by simply standing in front of the room with a mild stare as if politely waiting for us to quieten. It was a bit eerie. I always wondered why this worked more effectively than the antics of other teachers—banging the table, scraping the chalkboard, or shouting “Shut up!” She was always composed and never “lost it,” even when students were beyond rude. I admired that—the power of quiet.
But her creative writing classes were my favorite, apart from my art classes. It was quiet in there, comfortable and warm (hence my dozing off). It was one of the few places I could hear my thoughts. Though we were assigned to write in class, I found it hard to do so. The time limit of the class period was constricting so I found it easier to simply think, jot down a few ideas, and sleep. I would then work on my assignments at home—in the late hours at night or the wee hours of the morning or even through my family’s clamor at noon. I guess she noticed my process and simply let me be because she never woke me while I slept in class except to tell me it’s over.
When the quarter was over and the class completed, she would check up on us to see if we were still writing and would offer her class to write in during lunch or after school, if she was available. She would inform us of contests to enter and workshops to enroll in to improve our abilities. But I wrote sporadically after the class and shied away from her efforts. I didn’t write during lunch because that’s when I hung with friends, I didn’t write after school because that’s when I worked, and I didn’t write any other time because that’s when I had fun…I couldn’t have fun working by myself, I thought. Still, I am grateful for Ms. P’s understanding and encouragement.
So what made Ms. P great? She understood her student and knew when to push and when to let her be.
The second is a college English professor. I shall call her Dr. F. Now Dr. F was kind and welcoming but strict. You didn’t mess around in her classes or fall asleep or show up late. You were on time and prepared. Her classes were never noisy and students were always engaged, or tried to be. Dr. F was a bit intimidating. She pushed you and challenged you to do better, to do your best.
I’ll admit: I’m not a good student. I work when I want to and take breaks whenever I feel like. If it’s too cold outside, it’s possible I won’t show for a class; or, if it’s too warm, I’ll take the day off. If I think a particular homework is pointless, I probably won’t do it or I’ll do something not yet assigned. It was hard to get away with such antics in Dr. F’s class and my lack of focus during that time in college led me to fail her class. But I enjoyed the discussions we had in her classes. We dug deep into the books we read, experienced them, and shared those experiences with each other while guided by Dr. F’s apparent love of literature. She was amazing and made me want to push to do better—so I failed her classes twice. (Yes; horrible, horrible me. I swear homework is the bane of my existence.) I was not prepared to commit.
Still she noticed my curiosity and willingness to learn and improve despite my lack of effort. So although I failed her classes twice and was no longer enrolled in them, she still pushed me to do my best and to believe that I can do better. Even after graduating we stayed in touch and she continues to motivate me to this day. Prior to her classes, I’ve never encountered a teacher who challenged me in such a way that I realized the lack of effort and commitment I had put into the majority of my schoolwork.
So what made Dr. F great? She understood her student and challenged her to operate at her best to produce great work and when that student was unfocused, she motivated her to believe she can do better.
Thanks to all the exceptional teachers who are both patient and understanding!
And thanks to all the women who’ve impacted my life.
Other musings on exceptional teachers
- The Boy Who Had No Ears (godrickgnomish.wordpress.com)
- I, As Your Teacher… (inkhammer.wordpress.com)
- Becoming a Great Teacher is Like Pulling Teeth (jitterygt.wordpress.com)
- Daily Prompt: Great Teachers/Staying in Focus: Passion Plays a Part (patcoyle53.wordpress.com)
- Oh Captain, My Captain! (meanderedwanderings.wordpress.com)