The Good Teacher

Some things do not change.

In the next several posts, I will include, verbatim, the text of the speech I gave in 1972 to the School of Education at the University of the Pacific.

That year, I was 21 years old. What did I know about teaching?

Not much.

But, in my usual opinionated (and in this speech, wordy) way, I expressed my beliefs about teachers….the good ones and bad ones.

Many years have passed since that hot May afternoon, as I walked up the dais and stood behind a podium…


Dean Jantzen, President McCaffrey, Honored Guests, Faculty, Members of the Graduating Class, Family, and Friends:

Jimmy, stop dunking Becky’s braid into the inkwell.

Paul, your penmanship is atrocious. Maybe a sharp slap across the knuckles with my yardstick will improve it.

Students, you will be required to memorize every little detail in the life of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Run, Dick, Run, Run with Spot, See Spot and Dick Run.

The modern school of educational thought would regard these examples as archaic and obsolete. Inkwells, bruised knuckles, memorization of facts and yes, even Dick, Jane, Spot, and Puff, characters of the past, have been exchanged for new and more contemporary innovations.

Consider the field of education—old concepts of the classroom, teaching methodology and philosophy have been uprooted—turned over—new seeds are beginning to sprout in these areas. Open classrooms, multi-media and individualized learning blossom forth. A child can adjust her earphones, turn on her tape cassette, and plug in her educational television, all while writing down the learning plan she has contracted for the week.

Traditions in education are indeed witnessing change. Yet, amidst this philosophical and mechanical change, one aspect of the process has managed to survive: the teacher, a living breathing example of man’s desire to pass on his knowledge to his children. Children have not, as yet, returned home from school complaining that their computers gave them too much homework.

I question: Is the teacher, an integral part of both traditional and modern education, worth keeping?

You might answer: The good teacher is worth keeping.

To this statement I ask: Have the qualities of good teachers changed in the progression from traditional to modern education? Have these qualities survived the technique and media change?

All of us here today can recall teachers who have distinguished themselves. Who is that teacher you remember? Undoubtedly, she was the good teacher (you liked her and she liked you) or the bad teacher (he never smiled and you were sure he lived in a cage). The teacher considered neither good nor bad is easily forgotten with the passage of time, fading into mediocrity. The qualities that distinguish a good teacher from a bad one are not modern inventions. They were as valid 50 years ago as they are today. They are qualities not taught from books and ones a 4- year university education can still leave one without.

They are human-not mechanical, natural-not forced, and growing-not stagnant. What are these qualities?

First, let me introduce you to Mrs. Crabapple, an example of what the good teacher is NOT.

Peeking inside her classroom, we view Mrs. Crabapple, better known by her students as “the crab.” She sits where she teaches from, that home away from home—her desk. Her class works silently on dittoed worksheets. This tranquil atmosphere, Mrs. Crabapple feels, is most conducive the real learning. It also enables her to finish a chapter in The Godfather. A small boy in the back has a smile on his face. A smile! The sign of mischievous plotting and devilish thinking in the minds of minors…Wipe that smile off your face Teddy and get working!
Mornings pass slowly for Mrs. Crabapple, but she finds that sudden surge of enthusiasm welling up inside of her as the clock nears noon.

That same surge finds its second wind around 3:00 pm as the school day ends. Mrs. Crabapple stops in at the teachers’ lunchroom on her way out. There she manages to complain to some colleagues that a certain teacher has been copying the artistic aspects of her bulletin boards and the same teacher had better lower her hemline.

Mrs. Crabapple exists today as she has in the past and will in the future. Contemporary innovation, modern equipment, and newfangled philosophies will not improve the bad teacher. Sure, they may camouflage the situation for a time, but reality will expose the truth.

Next post: Miss Daisy, the Good Teacher

Photo by Cheri Block Sabraw 2008 Casino Roses alive, fading, and in a new form

About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in Writing and Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Good Teacher

  1. Victoria says:

    thank you for this.
    I have just finished my teacher training and am substituting in two districts right now.
    still muddling through my own ‘teaching philosophy’, but have always firmly believed that good teaching requires an honest relationship and caring as the prerequisite.

  2. Sunny says:

    I love the first part and recognise a colleague of mine.

  3. Christopher says:

    Your speech was a remarkably good one for a 21 year-old.

    Just as most managers in the business world can’t manage, so can’t most teachers. Do you know anyone who said nearly all their teachers were good? I don’t.

    Most likely, the qualities making for a good teacher – sensitivity, empathy, ability to communicate, the touchy-feely stuff – are what only only a minority of us have. We are born with them. We cannot absorb them if we don’t innately have these qualities.

    Which is to say, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

    And think about this: bad teachers make us appreciate the good ones more.

  4. Cheri Block Sabraw says:

    Gee Christopher,
    Thanks a bunch. I must admit that I cringed reading part of my speech, but hey, I was only a kid myself.

    I agree that the natural teachers,or for that matter, natural anythings are born with their talents.

    I have seen many good teachers in action. I have 17 of them at my little school. Why are they there? Why do they come after a full day of work and spend more time? They are rewarded with a fine hourly rate, a refrigerator full of ice tea and sodas, and a positive atmosphere, where back biting, gossip, and negativity are no where to be found.

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