What Does It Take To Be A Good Teacher?
by Don Berg, Founder
If you want to be a good teacher here is what it takes:
The passion for teaching can take two forms, a passion for helping students OR a passion for living from the perspective of your subject.
If you have both, then you are twice blessed.
If your passion is for the students, then you should play to that strength and structure your teaching as a process of following their interests as much as possible.
That way you maximize their connection to the learning process and their investment in success.
If your passion is centered on your subject, then you should play to that strength and structure your teaching as a process of discovering what the world looks like from that specific perspective.
Every subject or field of study is a way of viewing the world, not just a bunch of information.
As a view of the world there are things worth paying attention to and other things that are a waste of attention.
If you were teaching biology, for instance, you would pay attention to which experimental animals are mating with other animals in the experiment, but you would ignore which experimenters were mating with other experimenters in the department.
(Unless, of course, you applied the same experimental method and collected data to make a useful comparison of mating behaviors.)
The school or other teaching environment (in case you are home schooling or a "trainer" in a non-school setting) will be a very large factor in your experience of teaching.
If you are passionate about the students and expect to be a warm fuzzy nurturing kind of teacher, but your school is all about strict adherence to government standards and teaching to get arbitrary test scores, then you will get severely disillusioned and burn-out.
Make sure that you get real solid information about any place you are expecting to teach.
Figure out what your values are and then devise strategies for finding out what the real values of the school are, too.
You would do well to make personal connections with current staff to make sure you can see through their marketing rhetoric to find out what really goes on.
There are, of course, exceptionally good teachers who bucked the system.
John Taylor Gatto and Jaime Escalante are just two notable examples.
But John Taylor Gatto did not even set out to be a teacher, let alone a maverick teacher who skirted the domination of the powers that be in the New York City Public Schools.
According to what I have heard him say and have read he sort of backed into teaching and then stuck with it.
In the process he became disillusioned, but had very strong values and some lucky breaks that allowed him to succeed.
Do yourself a favor and make your choices more deliberately than that so you can spend the next 20-30 years doing it right the first time, instead of figuring it out from scratch.
Question from a disillusioned teacher
On Yahoo! Answers this great question was asked and my answer was chosen by the asker as the best answer:
Should I teach?
Best Answer - As Chosen by the Asker
It sounds to me like you are thinking that in order to teach you have to teach in a school.
Consider teaching in an environment that does not require you to submit to the evil, bizarre, and ridiculous stuff that you experienced in that school.
Consider teaching through other kinds of programs.
There is a non-profit teen cafe in my town (The Boiler Room) that hosts writing groups.
Maybe you could find a similar kind of organization that would allow you to offer classes or facilitate writing groups.
Consider working with alternative schools, private schools, home schoolers, and/or youth oriented service organizations.
If you have the passion to teach you should teach, but don't sacrifice your sanity in the process.
Do not settle for a crazy making organization, it's not worth it.
You might have to be creative and innovative to make it work, but what better use can you make of your life than expressing your talents in the service of educating youth?
Being a good teacher is not just about getting good teaching skills, it's also about finding a school or other teaching environment that will demand good teaching from you.
Good teachers can be created by an environment that demands good teaching, and bad teachers can be created by environments that distract teachers with irrelevant demands on their attention.
Catalyzing learning is the core purpose of teaching and when schools miss that point then they are likely to miss the boat for supporting good teachers, too.
P.S. Here is retired veteran teacher Marion Brady's story of how he became a good teacher, AFTER he had been lauded by others as one for many years.
His story makes my points beautifully because despite the recognition of others he knew he was not really a good teacher until he had an epiphany that lead him to focus on the learning rather than the window dressing of teaching that too often misleads us.
And his ability to continue with his radical departure from the norm was bolstered by the political clout he had from all the recognition he had earned as a puppet of the teaching norms of his day.
John Taylor Gatto mentioned in one of his books or talks about how he had started his geurilla curriculum under the political protection of a sympathetic principal, but when that principal left he sought out public recognition in order to solidify his political position independently of who his principal would be.
That's the kind of political manipulations that most teachers seem to resent, like the one who asked the Yahoo question above.
Here is an essay that talks about how many schools are missing the mark with "accountability", look for the example of the teacher who gets up in a community meeting to say he "used to be a good teacher."
Here is another fascinating resource on the qualities of a good teacher. UNICEF, United Nations Children's Fund, asked children 8-12 years old throughout the world, "What makes a good teacher?"
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