What makes a good teacher? Yikes, that’s an age old question. I believe there are nearly 200,000 public schools in the US alone, so throw in all of the private schools, and then add in schools from nearly 200 countries, and we have hundreds of thousands (millions, maybe?) of principals, headmasters, directors, superintendents, and other administrators asking that question nearly every day.
What makes a good teacher?
Now, while there are thousands of article and books published on this question, I am going to use this space to reflect on my own experiences as a student, and tell you what I think makes a good teacher. And, I’ll use three of the best teachers I ever had to illustrate my findings. I had dozens of excellent teachers both in school and college, but these three brought unique characteristics to the classroom.
Exhibit 1 is Mr. (Richard) Bump, self-named as Big B, who I had in both 5th and 6th grades (my Mom tried to get me moved in the 6th grade and not have him a second year, but I must have caused such a ruckus that she allowed me to stay).
Then, for 12th grade English I had Mr. (Morry) Mannies who actually achieved more fame (and fortune, I am sure) outside of the classroom as an award-winning sportscaster.
In college and graduate school, the one teacher who stood out was Dr. (David) Collier , my professor and mentor in Latin American political science, history, and culture.
What makes a good teacher? Here’s what they taught me.
MAKE IT FUN. Some people may say that “fun” is for outside the classroom, but if you don’t have your students’ attention, everything else you do is useless, and fun is a great way to get attention. Mr. Bump was a riot, but he used his games, tricks, humor, antics, theatrics, and acting all in the name of learning. We had learning games to get us out early for recess, math quizzes that we had to do in our heads, and all sorts of activities accompanied by music. One of my favorites was singing, by section, Swing Low Sweet Chariot at the top of our lungs. I still sing that song to myself in the car, and used to sing it at night to my daughters when putting them to bed. I could write a book about Mr. Bump and his teaching techniques, and perhaps I will some day.
BREAK THE RULES. Until my senior year in high school, I thought English grammar was all about a specific process that you had to memorize until you were ready to vomit. Mr. Mannies brought writing to life for me by suggesting — NO, encouraging me — that I break some rules. “Just get your ideas down on paper, Michael, we’re worry about the details later” is what he told me dozens of times. He also taught me about how great lists make great articles or stories. Just make a list, tweak it, and add the fluff later. I ended up having a pretty successful career as both a writer and, then later, as a publisher, and I attribute, at least in part, Mr. Mannies encouragement to break some rules.
TEACH WHAT’S N-O-T PART OF THE COURSE. The single most important skill I ever learned, inside of a classroom, was how to type; and right up there at number two is how to organize. While I enjoyed Professor Collier’s lectures on Latin American politics, what he really taught me was how to take massive amounts of data (yeah, that’s what we did in graduate school… pour over reams and reams of data) and put them into intelligible chunks. I think what Dr. Collier helped me learn was that lots of people could write, but if you didn’t organize your data and your thoughts in meaningful and interesting ways, you weren’t going to reach your intended audience.
So, those are my top 3 things that make a good teacher.
What would you add? Which teachers taught you about what makes a good teacher?