April 11, 2014

Reflections about teaching: #7 (adjusted)

From Smamy's comment on my original post...
7) What attribute is most important for teachers to have? (knowledge, patience, style of teaching, desire to be with kids, etc). I think I know what your answer might be, but that is based on a conversation from college....that took place from about 10pm to 3am one evening/morning. Good times.
Man, that is not a conversation that I remember. Admittedly, college was a great time for deep conversations, for trying to solve the world's problems (usually sober for me, not always that way for everybody) by talking through them, for thinking forward to how different the world would be if only we had better control of it, for bucking the system verbally in hopes of bucking the systems for real at a later date.

Back to the question at hand...

What's the most important attribute for a teacher to have?

I would like to say that it's a deep thematic knowledge of the teacher's subject because that might be my best attribute as a teacher, but subject knowledge isn't remotely the most important attribute.

There are so many attributes that are necessary to be a great teacher...
  • empathy - the ability to understand and relate and put yourself into the shoes of your students' situations, struggles, and needs
  • flexibility - willingness to let the best laid plans go when teachable moments appear and also to be able to take the entirely, thoroughly unexpected changes in stride and still manage to deliver quality instruction
  • consistency - When students know what to expect, that there is no doubt - which doesn't always mean strictness, by the way - in what is expected of them, they can more easily succeed.
  • clarity - This one's close to consistency in that the goals of giving instruction - both teaching instruction and simple in-class, do-what-I-say instruction - is to make sure you are understood. Students can be at their best when they aren't struggling to understand what's being said to them.
  • vision - Some people are part-to-whole folks. They can plan individual days and somehow put them together into a unit, a plan, a cohesive whole. I'm not like that. I need to see the big picture - where are we going - so that I can plan down day by day and hopefully get us there.
As to which of those I would chose, I think I'll go with empathy. Everything else can come from that. If a teacher can understand what his or her students need, what their challenges are and what needs to be done to overcome them - not to be soft, not to be sympathetic because students (read: people) don't need things given to them, don't need to simply be pointed at the easiest path and set upon it - then that teacher can lead toward success.

I'm curious, Smamy, what answer did I give back from 515 Jennison a couple of decades ago?

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