Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Great Teacher

I hold a bachelors degree in elementary education. I graduated Suma Cum Laude and received an award for my near perfect score on the exam required to be an elementary school teacher. I also completed the coursework and passed the exam to teach art. Before I secured my first job, I started working toward a certificate in special education. I now have a masters in special education and I currently work under an additional state-issued certificate for something called an LDTC (you can look that one up, it's too complicated to explain what I do on any given day in this job).  I am currently considering a second masters in an educational leadership field.  I am twenty-eight years old and since I turned three, I have never really stopped going to school. Before I am an educator, I am a learner.

When I was an undergraduate student studying elementary education and fine art, I decided that I would never teach art. This is why I never actually bothered to pay for the certificate even though I took the classes and passed the test. Why? From the time I was ten years old, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be someone who positively impacted others; I wanted to be the person about which people looked back on years later and said, "She changed my life. I am better because of her." At ten years old I just didn't know what I would do to become this person. A few years later I decided teaching is what would do. With all the wisdom of a college student, I was certain art teachers were not the kind of people who had a lifelong lasting impact on their students, so I would pursue a career as an elementary school teacher.

Part of being a lifelong learner is repeatedly finding that things you believed to be true are actually quite wrong. I have also come to embrace the idea that the first step to becoming knowledgeable about anything is accepting that you just don't know what you don't know. Only when you accept this can you actually begin to learn.

In my current role, I get to see what's happening in a lot of different classrooms. These visits aren't about the teachers; I observe students. However, I have learned more about great teaching doing this than I ever did watching teachers- a common task assignment for college students studying education. 

What I didn't know in all of my finite college-student wisdom was that being a great teacher isn't about what you teach, it is about how you teach. I am blessed to work with many great educators, and from being in their classrooms and watching their students, these are just a few of the things I have learned.

Great teachers don't know everything, and their students know it.
This comes back to my point about lifelong learners. Great teachers admit when they are wrong. They look up information to answer questions posed by their students and aren't afraid to say "I don't know the answer to that question, but let's find out together." This teaches students that it's okay not to have all the answers. It also teaches them that being curious and asking questions isn't pointless, and that their teacher- a grown-up- cares enough to take the time to answer a question. Fear the teacher who knows everything, because she doesn't know what she doesn't know.

Great teachers cry.
My husband is continually amazed by the frequency with which I come home and report that there have been one (or more) crying episodes in my office. And these are rarely students. Great teachers do not cry out of despair. They cry because they love the twenty-or-so souls for whom they are the keeper for seven hours per day. They love other people's children so much that these children's triumphs warm their hearts and need to be shared, while a child's challenges become personal crusades of improvement. Often this passion is conveyed through hours spent brainstorming about how to reach a single child, the need to share a small victory, and through the corners of the eyes.

Great teachers have great students.
 ...Or at least they want their students to think they do. I have walked into many a classroom where students are told that they are capable, they are authors, athletes, mathematicians, researchers, musicians, artists, or scientists, and they believe it. Great teachers lead their students to believe that they are the best class ever. The smartest, kindest, most amazing class that teacher has ever had. Ever. The funny thing about having a teacher tell her students they're all of these things? They begin to believe it, and gradually they stand a little taller, slowly but surely they grow into all of these things.

Great teachers fill many roles.
Whether they have twenty students, three, or one hundred, great teachers make a difference not because of what they teach, or even who they teach, but because of how they view and interact with their students. A teacher's greatness is reflected  back, and can be seen in the eyes of their students. If ever you ask yourself if you are in the presence of a great teacher, or if you are a great teacher, look no further than your students, because their greatness is because of yours.

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