A big shout out to all the traditional classroom educators, as well as continuing ed instructors, virtual lecturers, coaches, parents, and supervisors. To all – Happy World Teachers’ Day!
This United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) initiative is an annual, global day devoted to appreciating, assessing, and improving the educators of the world.
What better opportunity, then, to reflect on the attributes of a good teacher? Let me preface this by saying I’m by no means an expert in education, though I aspire to be a John Medina (author of Brain Rules). Instead, I’m a software business guy with a serious passion for lifelong learning. That passion has driven my career choices and motivated me to be the best teacher and student in my professional, familial, and personal relationships.
That said, here are the top four characteristics I believe make for excellent educators:
Curators of Information
You don’t have to be Einstein to teach the theory of relativity.
In other words, a good teacher doesn’t have to be the smartest on a particular topic, or an expert in a given field. Instead, he or she just needs to know how to curate all the volumes of resources out there, neatly package that information, and deliver it in a way that can be best absorbed by students.
There’s a huge brain out there, called the Internet, that we can all access. Good teachers know exactly what to cull and pull, and are skilled at determining the flow of that knowledge.
I had a trumpet teacher when I was young. I have vivid memories of riding my bike to his house for lessons, trumpet strapped to my back. I remember being terrified as I ascended into his basement for lessons. I never practiced. I was usually ill-prepared. And, he was famous for ranting that I was wasting my parents’ money and his time, and insisting I put my trumpet away and leave, before the lesson was officially over. He nearly derailed my trumpet playing career.
Fast forward to today. My 12-year-old son is taking trumpet lessons at this nearby music shop. His instructor is a super laid-back, 40-something who reminds me of a jazz musician out of the ‘60s. (He says stuff like, “cool cat” and encourages his students to all jam together, regardless of how good or bad they sound.)
This teacher makes my son feel welcome and appreciated and makes learning really fun. He respects his pupils and in turn, they respect him. That’s the way it should be. After all, teachers can’t teach without students, but students can learn without teachers. This respect my son and his instructor have for one another enhances the learning experience.
Able to Make Learning a Social Experience
You’ll be surprised to know that I continued with the trumpet, playing in the marching band in high school and college, despite my negative experience early on.
I continued because being a member of the band was a social experience for me. Music became my party. It was my social interaction, my connection with peers. That dynamic, responsive engagement is critical to learning.
As Medina says, learning is the process of associating information with personal experiences. Good teachers know this, they assign the learning as solo work, then spend class time engaging in conversation. Because, when we read or see something, we begin the knowledge process. However, the real learning and retention starts when we talk about how it pertains to us.
Accepting of Mistakes
When a learning environment is subservient or so rigid that mistakes aren’t acceptable (read: my trumpet lessons), learning is stifled. However, when teachers create an environment in which mistakes are welcome, learning can flourish. I think about my own life, and it’s when I’ve made mistakes, that I’ve profoundly learned and retained.