My college graduation day was a hot one. My parents, Hugh and Joan, and even my grandfather, Harry, were in the audience. My adored siblings, Steve, Cindy Lou, and Jimmy came. My husband sat by my dad. Yep, I was a young married girl at 21.
The credentialing program is different today. Most would-be teachers take four years of undergraduate study and then student teach. UOP offered a cool program that allowed us to student teach during our senior year of college and then pursue our academic interests over seven years. I pursued English.
Once again, here are my (many) words of long ago.
“The qualities in a good teacher, an above average, dedicated individual, who by action and example is a source of community pride, may be seen in Miss Daisy.
Miss Daisy’s classroom is buzzing with activity. She is rarely found at her desk. She goes out to her students instead of waiting for them to come to her. A smile is a Welcome Sign in her room. It signifies to her that learning can be fun and to her students that she cares. Her enthusiasm captivates their enthusiasm. She can be inconvenienced and she can be bothered. Miss Daisy is fresh, imaginative, and gives her students a reason to come to school.
What other qualities are present in a good teacher? These will never be out-dated or out of step with the rhythm of time.
Enthusiasm—eagerness, zest, spirit.
All of us have little trouble becoming enthusiastic about what interests us. Many teachers are fervent about art, music, science, math, or literature. The enthusiastic teacher, however, is one who can become excited over that which she may not be readily interested in. Too many teachers channel their own personal uninterest about a subject into a fresh and impressionable young mind. For example, Bobby is fascinated by insects, so he captures a spider and brings it to his teacher, who happens to be deathly afraid of them and orders him to take it outside. An enthusiastic teacher, regardless of her fear, should have turned this incident into a learning experience.
A Sense of Humor—amusement, light-heartedness, the ability to laugh at yourself.
This quality should be valued as one of the most important in the classroom. Students love to laugh (don’t we all?) and are the authors of impish pranks. Teachers can save themselves headaches by learning to laugh at such situations. Humor helps to keep the seriousness of the classroom in the right perspective. When the classroom atmosphere is kept in a serious mood, tensions, anxieties, and frustrations flare. With humor, a classroom climate is conducive to learning. A good teacher must be able to laugh at himself. In dealing with adolescents and young adults, this is helpful. A gap between teacher and student is often present at this level. Humor is that effective tool which, when used with discretion, helps to bridge the gap.
Sensitivity—awareness, attentiveness, sympathy.
This quality is too broad and vast to aptly discuss here, but suffice to say that the teacher with this quality is not only sensitive to the emotional capacity of a student, but to the academic one as well. She recognizes the total child—his family, home environment, school-behavior, academic performance, and emotional make-up. It is the good teacher who can distinguish the delicate, individual differences of each child that need attention, be they cognitive or affective in nature, and pump her attention in that direction. The teacher is sensitive to their individual needs as well as to the needs of the group as a whole. The sensitive teacher listens with interest, even when the story being told is dull. She not only notices facial expressions, but written expressions as well. She understands the importance of reading between the lines.
This sensitive touch to teaching is often marred by years of teaching. This once responsive area often petrifies into a callous and crusty wasteland. Only the teacher herself can keep this sensitivity alive and soft. It does not come easy. Staying relevant to youth takes concentrated effort.
Professionalism—dedication, ethics, reliability.
A professional teacher is a responsible individual who realizes that in working with youth, he or she has one of the most important positions in society, important in that the young are impressionable, easily influenced, quick to follow example, and tomorrow’s future. The professional teacher uses her classroom and lectern to guide her students through learning by discovery, not by mimicry. She is not only responsible for her students but also for society. She becomes momentarily unprofessional when she preaches to her students her own personal views as being right, when she slams or discusses negatively the names of other teachers or other students, and when she brings her union problems into the classroom.
The professional qualities in a teacher cause her to consider her profession, education, as not just a job but also an art. Her goal is to improve that art talent daily. The truly professional teacher directs her efforts not in the acquisition of monetary gain, but rather to provide quality instruction for her students.
These four qualities—enthusiasm, a sense of humor, sensitivity, and professionalism are by no means the only qualities found in the good teacher, but merely those that I feel the need to discuss today. These qualities are traditional as they are modern, know no particular era or time in history. They are quite observable when a good teacher is seen in action.
I still believe in most of what I thought about education, way back in the Pleistocene Era. My little speech was simplistic and ideal. And yet, in the last 35 years, most, if not all, of the educational blather that academics have written in their theses and books, has done little to improve American test scores. Perhaps returning to the simple and ideal might help?
My comments about teacher salary were naïve. It is expensive to support a family in this country. The low teacher salary is a deterrent to attracting bright people. Only when we increase salary, drop tenure, plug in merit pay and accountability, will American education begin to improve. A business model would help prune the dead matter out of an overgrown briar patch.
Reducing the size of the Federal Department of Education, the State Departments of Education and the County Departments of Education is a start.
Return all educational decisions to local school boards. Most communities (with the vote) are capable of directing their students’ education. And to all of you who worry that a small district in a remote part of the United States may not be teaching what you think is right (evolution, banned books…blah, blah, blah)I would say that voters in their own communities can make those decisions for their students.
Do you think we should drive into Amish communities and order them to turn on the lights?
I don’t think so.
In my crowded brain, the stories of 36 years of teaching— to poor kids, rich kids, black kids, Asian kids, white kids, elementary kids, junior high kids, high school kids, adults, slow kids, regular kids, smart kids, and super smart kids—those stories are marinating.
Photo by Cheri Block Sabraw Highway 1 Big Sur, California. 2009 “Just Before the Mud Slide”