One was, funny enough, probably the best teacher I had because she was the worst teacher I ever had, and reflecting back it helped make me aware of what I didn’t want to do as a teacher. (Usually the best teacher isn't the one you realize is the best teacher right after their class, is it?) I had her my Freshman year of High School and, aside from a couple of boring, dry labs (including one during which I broke a slide cover, which cost a nickel, and she pestered me about that nickel for the remainder of the year) the entirety of her class, day in and day out, consisted of her sitting at a desk, reading the textbook, and asking us a question over what was in it. If the first sentence in a paragraph was, “Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell” she would ask one of the students, at random, “Jason, what is the powerhouse of the cell?” I would say, “The mitochondria” and she would give a brief, uninspired explanation. Then she would read the next paragraph and it would continue again. That’s how I spent a year in high school.
I knew, no matter what, that I could never make my class like that. If that’s all I wanted to accomplish – there’s easier and better ways to make money than teaching.
Another of who I would consider to be my best teachers was a teacher from whom I learned very little. He was only my teacher for roughly half the year – he had a lot of chronic health issues and passed away a few years after he taught me – but what he did, more than any other teacher I can think of, is listened deeply, and he truly valued my opinion. For a 13 year old kid having someone who was obviously very smart, and had read and done a lot of things, to listen to me – someone that wasn’t related to me – it really meant a lot. It was a World History class and during most of that time we talked about philosophical ideas, listened to music, and gained an appreciation for the material. I ended up loving history so much that I ended up getting a Bachelor’s in I (and love it to this day).
His tests were over information he barely covered in class – he took the opinion that a teacher was not supposed to be a substitute for a textbook - but because we cared about what he thought (because he cared about us) we read the textbook for ourselves. Because we knew he cared about us, we worked harder, and we did more independently.
As a very wise teacher once told me, “If they know you care about them, you can push them to the moon to succeed.”
The third teacher I had that I would consider to be the best teacher I ever had was similar – she worked very hard for us so we knew she cared about us, but because the class was self-contained she took the opportunity to give us the most freedom we could possibly have (given that we were in elementary school and junior high at the time). We designed spaceships, considered complex ideas, went on field trips to incredible places, and she did an incredible job of opening our minds. In her class we worked hard (and she worked very hard for us) – but our work never felt like work, because everything was so much fun and because we loved being there.
I’ve tried to keep these three people as lessons to me as to how to become a better teacher. Who would you choose, and why?