Having been in the field of education for most of my life, either as a teacher myself or as a student, I believe that what makes a teacher great is a passion for her craft. If I am not excited by the subject I am teaching, I will fail to ignite that spark in my students. If I am not excited by the act of teaching itself, I will fail to spark a quest for knowledge within them, a spark which helps them to become active seekers of knowledge and not passive recipients. This is the key that can unlock their potential, open them up to new ideas and insights and place them on a path toward finding their own passion.
This is how we develop a generation of thinkers, of active minds capable of problem solving. This is how we develop our future leaders, founders of future corporations, scientists, medical researchers, musicians, and writers, those who will lead our country into a positive future. We need then now more than ever.
How does a great teacher make this connection with her students? She grabs their attention with enthusiasm, communicated by her voice and actions. She fills the air with expectation. She often begins a lesson or a new topic by asking questions and not by supplying all the answers, guiding her students into discovering the answers for themselves. She keeps them on their feet, never knowing what to expect next. She engages them, draws them into discussion, and lets them anticipate what will happen next. More often than not, she uses humor, too, which is an invaluable tool. Let’s face it, if we look back and name a great teacher, those with a sense of humor stand out.
When was in high school, I took a social studies class. Rather than drone on and on about culture, economy and government, the teacher divided us into countries. We named our country, chose a form of government, developed a culture and then, given a budget to start things up, off we went. We quickly gained insights into the difficulty involved, especially as aggressive, militant states could declare war on us at any time. How much to budget the military? Do we do less for our schools? How about medical research, jobs for the people? Keep an eye out for inflation, overspending. Send money to areas devastated by flood. How much foreign help should we provide? That I can remember this class so clearly some 44 years later is a testament to its impact on me. I can now say, “Thank you, Mr. Courter, you were a great teacher!
I think it would behoove our universities and teacher colleges to pay more attention to developing this ability to communicate with enthusiasm, with curriculum materials that challenge and excite as well as convey knowledge, to approach teaching in an active, not passive, way.
Is it more important that I know Columbus discovered America in 1492 or that we risk civil unrest if we wage constant war without provocation?
A classroom screening of the musical 1776 can teach far more about the angst of nation building than all the textbooks combined. After that viewing, have students act out key scenes, rewrite key scenes or write an essay on how one change in the Declaration of Independence could have changed history. Would it have been for better or worse? Students, tell me.
Children come to school naturally hungry for knowledge, a hunger which will diminish without being fed. It is a great teacher that recognizes this and answers the call with passion