What Makes a Teacher a Favorite to Students?

This question recently surfaced between my son (a high school senior) and me. We had a great discussion about many of his past teachers, most of who had taught under my supervision.  His take on which ones connected and which ones did not, along with my own higher than usual knowledge of those teachers, led to some of the following points that I am posting for other’s edification:

  1. Mutual Respect.  The key thing that connects a teacher and student is mutual respect.  This is not to make age or authority distinctions fuzzy (those must stay clear) but it speaks to the issue of a teacher believing that her students can truly learn.
  2. Humility.  This came out almost immediately.  Kids are proud and can smell a proud adult a mile away.  Some very gifted people did not make the top of my son’s list simply due to this one issue – they were much more concerned about themselves than learning.
  3. Manner.  Methods mean a lot.  As we talked about this issue, my son was not conscious of the means used, he simply gravitated toward those classrooms that allowed for real discussion, give and take, an open forum for asking real questions.  We even discussed how some teachers seemed afraid of “real” questions, opting for the simple content questions and never asking “why” it seemed because they were afraid of where it might go.  We mutually agreed that the “Christian” nature of most of his schooling was a fault to some degree – what if someone actually questioned the existence of God or something?
  4. Forest and Trees.  My son’s favorite teachers found the balance here.  The big picture and the details were kept in fair equality.  Neither was pitched.  There was a point to all this detail, and there were specific applications to all this “philosophy.”
  5. Humor.  The best part of our discussion was the laughter.  Frankly, the most engaging teachers don’t take themselves, their students, or “school” all that seriously.  Its almost as though the good teacher is using “class” as an excuse to live life among those younger than he and see what comes of it.  The “not knowing what to expect” aspect was strong here.  And while we certainly saw that a teacher can laugh with his students, and perhaps sometimes at them, most effective was when they all could laugh at the teacher.

I am sure there are more.  This list simply came from a great discussion.  But I was struck by how powerful the list was and is.  It challenges my own demeanor in the classroom, and hope it does others as well.

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