What makes a teacher good?

Last week I was at a one-day conference with one of my colleagues who I don’t get to see near enough. This was a conference about the ACT. Yes, the test. Because we were at a conference about testing, it naturally led to the question, “How do you really know if a teacher is good?”

  • Does a test alone tell you a teacher is good?
  • Does student talk tell you a teacher is good?
  • Does a teacher’s passion for content tell you they are good?
  • Does a teacher’s involvement in school tell you they are good?
  • What do you rely on to know a teacher is good?

The fact of the matter is that teaching is a holistic process. I hear it time and again from newby teachers that they can’t believe how teaching kicks their butts. It has nothing to do with the curriculum, nothing to do with the testing, nothing to do with their knowledge of content, or with their involvement in school. It always has to do with the idea that teaching involves a person’s entire being.

When something isn’t going well in my classroom, I blame myself and I look within. When I can’t reach a student, I blame myself and I look within. When my students struggle with a concept, I blame myself and I look within.

Teaching involves all of me. Working with teens means that I must come into the classroom with an eye on the testing possibilities of each person, the development of the people sitting in front of me, the dreams of each family, the crises they might be having at school or at home, the human potential of each body in front of me, and how they balance all they are involved in. I am part of their being. I affect what ultimately happens to them.

Relationships are complicated by their very nature. Each year we form relationships with students that deepen our own understanding of ourselves. There are days I don’t like how I react to an event in my room, and I must face that and make it okay with the person I reacted to. If I don’t, I have the possibility of losing that person’s respect for the rest of the year.

I also have fun with my students. It is fun when they discover something they didn’t know before they crossed my threshold. It is fun to play with words and ideas each day. It is fun to push ideas into the ether. In the process of writing and pushing and playing and thinking we move one another.

How do you know a good teacher when you see one? The truth is, you just know. It is all of these things and more.

It is love.

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