“A good teacher is like a candle — it consumes itself to light the way for others.” ~ Author Unknown
How do you measure a good teacher? Recently I have felt like I can’t turn on my TV, listen to the radio, or pick up a newspaper without seeing a story about the state of education today. It’s hard not to take it personally when commentators always seem to have an opinion on what teachers need to do to “change.”
In the past few weeks, I have stayed late at work on many occasions, particularly on Fridays (as I know countless other teachers do). I enjoy the quiet of the building as I listen to music in my room. I relish the chance to make copies without standing in line and the ability to run to and from the printers (yes, I run in the halls).
Last Friday, there were four teachers in the building after dark. It was like a little after-school club. I started talking to one of my school’s new teachers, and I was blown away by all the fabulous ideas she had. She was so creative!
So I began to wonder . . . She and I are very different teachers, yet I’d like to think we are both good at what we do. There is no cookie-cutter version of the “perfect” teacher — so what is it that makes certain teachers great? What qualities does the “perfect” teacher possess?
Or is it the hours dedicated to the craft of teaching? So many of us log extra hours before and after the official school day. Yet some of the most amazing teachers I know are able to leave at 3:30 p.m... so maybe that isn’t it after all.
Or do years of experience shape a great teacher? Of the four teachers in the building that Friday, two of us were newer to the field (including me, of course!), while the other two were veterans. I wonder if years of teaching and expertise make some teachers so great. For one thing, they don’t have to spend quite as many hours planning.
Is it all about organization? Perhaps good teachers manage their time so well that they truly can get everything done during the school day.
As I pursue my masters degree in special education, I wonder if greatness equals mastery in one small niche, like emotional disorders or learning disabilities, or does it entail having skills across all content areas, all grade levels, and all disabilities?
And THEN I started to wonder if I had what it takes to be a great educator. Of the four of us who stayed late that night, all have backgrounds in special education, though only three currently teach it.
Ironically, this very week, one of my students bestowed upon me the “perfect teacher award.” There was a very lovely presentation in front of the classroom, complete with a bouquet of fake flowers arranged in a paper towel tube. The award itself is not a golden apple, it’s even better: a lovely sculpture of pink and yellow play-dough, mixed with staples.
So I asked my students what they thought a perfect teacher would be like. At first, they gave very cute answers (“You’re the perfect teacher, Ms. M!”), but I persisted. One student suggested, “A teacher who does things for us.” Another answered, “Perfect teachers help us.”
My favorite answer? “Perfect teachers care about us.”
I realized that the idea of the “perfect” teacher is perhaps very different for students than it is for the legislators who seem so intent on bemoaning the shortage of “qualified” teachers. For students, I think the perfect teacher is one who evokes positive emotions from themselves and their classmates. I don’t remember which teacher taught me how to read, how to multiply, or how to write in cursive. What I remember is how I felt in my favorite teachers’ classrooms: confident, happy, secure, eager to learn more.
In the end, I hope I can obtain all of the qualities I admire in teachers: specialized, but able to adapt to any and all situations; nurturing and patient, but willing to fight for my students and against public opinion; knowledgeable of special education best practices, but creative enough to adapt those ideas to help my students.
I hope that new and veteran teachers alike know that they are “perfect” in the eyes of the students who love them, look up to them, and depend on them.