So what really makes a great teacher? Last year, I asked my graduating class this question and their reply was interesting: great teachers are ones who care about students.
And this, to me, I think is the most important and rewarding part of teaching. Great teaching always happens in the context of a strong, supportive, and mutually respectful relationship. When a student knows that a teacher genuinely cares about his or her well-being and learning, then the student becomes deeply invested in the learning process. The more I think about it, the more I think that the teacher-student relationship is, in fact, the most essential pre-requisite for great teaching and deep learning.
I would add that the next essential element is a deep passion for one's subject matter and the teacher's own love of learning. If teachers are to inspire students, they need to be inspired themselves. They need to be scholars and model intellectual excitement for their students.
And finally, teachers need to work hard. Great teaching is very hard work. It's intellectually, emotionally, and even physically draining.
Increasingly, I find all the raging discussions about pedagogy somewhat irrelevant. Some great teachers are constructivist, others may use a more traditional approach. Some great teachers may run tightly ordered classrooms with lots of rules, others may run more relaxed classrooms. Some great teachers may engage their students in lots of activities, others may choose more traditional lectures and discussions. Pedagogy, I think, is important, but in the larger scheme of things, it's not what defines a great teacher. The reality is that kids can learn in a wide range of ways, and great teaching can happen in many different forms.
However, what great teachers have in common are the following:
- They care about their students. And their students know it.
- They care about their subjects, and they demonstrate a deep love of learning themselves.
- They work hard. Very, very hard.