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What Makes A Good Teacher?

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What Makes A Good Teacher? I have been teaching for the last ten years. During that time, I have worked in public schools, universities, extracurricular programs for K-12, adult basic literacy, and adult enrichment classes. My youngest student was a 6 year-old budding actress in a town-sponsored arts enrichment program for elementary students; my oldest, a Jamaican immigrant, a grandmother beginning at the age of 63 to learn how to read. I've taught honors students in a college humanities program, and severely handicapped youth in a public high school. The breadth of my experience has enriched my teaching life, but left me without a luxury some of my colleagues enjoy-the sense, as I walk into a new class, for a new term, that I know what my students will need, and how best to share it with them. This is not to say that I've been tossed blind into the classroom. In most cases, I've had enough prep time to gather what seem like appropriate materials, and find out something about the students I'll be working with. What I have not had is the critical mass of sameness that accrues to the teacher who stays in the same setting, at the same level, for many years in a row. I cannot assume that what worked last semester will work this time. As a result of my ever-changing context, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the craft and practice of teaching, as separate from course content, age of students, size of class, or institutional setting. ...read more.


And if you want your students to become better, more involved readers, you allow time for reading and provide access to books. Good teachers have expectations of success for all students. This is the great paradox of teaching. If we base our self-evaluation purely on the success of our students, we'll be disappointed. At all levels, but especially in adult education, there are simply too many factors in students' lives for a teacher to be able to guarantee success to all. At the same time, if we give up on our students, adopting a fatalistic, "it's out of my hands" attitude, and students will sense our lack of commitment and tune out. The happy medium can be achieved with a simple question: Did I do everything that I could in this class, this time, to meet the needs of all my students, assuming that complete success was possible? As long as you can answer in the affirmative, you're creating a climate for success. Good teachers know how to live with ambiguity. One of the greatest challenges of teaching stems from the lack of immediate, accurate feedback. The student who walks out of your classroom tonight shaking his head and muttering under his breath about algebra may burst into class tomorrow proclaiming his triumph over math, and thanking you for the previous lesson. There is no way to predict precisely what the long-term results of our work will be. ...read more.


The opposite of enjoyment is burnout-the state where no one and nothing can spark any interest. Notice, too, that enjoying your work and enjoying your students may be two different things. Focusing too much on content may make students feel extraneous, misunderstood, or left out. Focusing exclusively on students, without an eye to content, may make students feel understood and appreciated, but may not help them to achieve their educational goals as quickly as they'd like. Achieving a balance between the two extremes takes time and attention; it demands that we observe closely, evaluate carefully, and act on our findings. I would like to conclude with a poem by Lao-Tzu, the Chinese scholar to whom the Tao Te Ching is attributed. I have carried a copy of this poem with me for many years, and I find its message both helpful and challenging. It reminds us that good teaching is not a static state, but a constant process. We have new opportunities to become better teachers every day; good teachers are the ones who seize more opportunities than they miss. Some say that my teaching is nonsense. Others call it lofty but impractical. But to those who have looked inside themselves, This nonsense makes perfect sense. And to those who put it into practice, This loftiness has roots that go deep. I have just three things to teach: Simplicity, patience, compassion. Simple in actions and thoughts, You return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, You accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, You reconcile all being in the world. (1989, 17) ...read more.

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