The breadth of my experience has enriched my teaching life, but left me without a luxury a variety of my colleagues enjoy-the sense, as I walk in to a brand spanking new class, for a brand spanking new term, that I do know what my students will need, & how best to share it with them. This is not to say that I have been tossed blind in to the classroom. In most cases, I have had prep time to collect what appear like appropriate materials, & find out something about the scholars I will be working with. What I have not had is the critical mass of sameness that accrues to the teacher who stays in the same setting, at the same level, for lots of years in a row. I cannot assume that what worked last semester will work this time.
I have been teaching for the last0 years. In the coursework of that time, I have worked in public schools, universities, extracurricular programs for K-12, adult basic literacy, & adult enrichment classes. My youngest student was a 6 year-old budding actress in a town-sponsored arts enrichment program for simple students; my oldest, a Jamaican immigrant, a grandmother beginning at the age of 63 to learn how to read. I have taught honors students in a college humanities program, & severely handicapped youth in a public high school.
Due to my ever-changing context, I have spent lots of time thinking about the craft & practice of teaching, as separate from coursework content, age of students, size of class, or institutional setting. In all places I go, I meet exemplary teachers, & I have been interested in figuring out what makes them so lovely. What I have discovered is the inherent sameness of lovely teachers, irrespective of the substantial differences between them in terms of style, persona, goals, & pattern of interaction with students. I would go as far as to say that lovely teachers, in all settings & at all levels, have more in common with each other than any of them may have with their colleagues in comparable positions.
Lovely teaching is not about technique. I have asked students around the country to document their lovely teachers to me. A variety of them document individuals who lecture on a regular basis, a variety of them document individuals who do small other than facilitate group technique, & others document everything in between. But all of them document individuals who have some kind of connective capacity, who connect themselves to their students, their students to each other, & everybody to the subject being studied. (1999, p. 27)
In order to understand the bold statement above, try the following exercise. Sit back, close your eyes, & bring to mind the best teachers you ever had. Try to keep in mind what they were like-how they looked, talked & acted, what their classrooms and/or offices were like, how they made you feel as their student. When you are satisfied that you have got gotten a pleasant picture of who these people were, open your eyes, & think about the words of educator & philosopher Parker Palmer:
The remainder of this editorial will address a variety of the characteristics that lovely teachers exhibit. It is not meant to be all encompassing or definitive; lots of excellent teachers may possess only a variety of these traits, & think about others not mentioned to be as valuable. The characteristics detailed here may be viewed fundamentally as a choice of tools that let teachers to generate & maintain connectivity in their classrooms.
Do you recognize your best teachers in this description? When they speak about the quality of someone's teaching, they address issues of technique, content, & presentation. But all of us know individuals who have tremendous knowledge but fail to communicate it: individuals who have, on paper, a great lesson, but whose students are bored or frustrated. When they are being honest, they admit that lovely teaching often has less to do with our knowledge & skills than with our attitude towards our students, our subject, & our work.
have a sense of purpose;
have expectations of success for all students;
demonstrate a willingness to adjust & adjust to meet student needs;
are comfortable with not knowing;
reflect on their work;
learn from a variety of models;
enjoy their work & their students.
Lovely teachers have expectations of success for all students.
This is the great paradox of teaching. In the event that they base our self-evaluation purely on the success of our students, we'll be disappointed. At all levels, but in adult schooling, there is fundamentally lots of factors in students'lives for a teacher to be able to guarantee success to all. Simultaneously, in the event that they give up on our students, adopting a fatalistic, "it's out of my hands" attitude, students will sense our lack of dedication & tune out. The happy medium can be achieved with a simple query: Did I do everything that I could in this class, this time, to meet the needs of all my students, assuming that complete success was feasible? As long as you can answer in the affirmative, you are making a climate for success.
Lovely teachers have a sense of purpose.
You cannot be lovely in a generic sense; you need to be lovely for something. As a teacher, this means that you know what your students expect, & you make designs to meet those expectations. You, , have expectations about what happens in your classroom, based on the goals you are trying to accomplish. In the event you need to prepare your students for employment, you expect punctuality & lovely attendance. In the event you teach a GED class, you spend time explaining the format of the check & helping students to improve their test-taking skills. & in the event you need your students to become better, more involved readers, you permit time for reading & provide access to books.
Lovely teachers know how to live with ambiguity.
of the greatest challenges of teaching stems from the dearth of immediate, correct feedback. The student who walks out of your classroom tonight shaking his head & muttering under his breath about algebra may burst in to class tomorrow proclaiming his triumph over math, & thanking you for the earlier lesson. There is no way to foretell exactly what the long-term results of our work will be. But in the event that they have a sense of purpose informing our choice of strategies & materials, & they try to cultivate expectations of success for all our students, they are going to be less likely to dwell on that unpredictability, choosing in lieu to focus on what they can control, & trusting that thoughtful preparation makes lovely outcomes more likely than bad ones.
Lovely teachers are reflective.
This may be the only infallible, absolute characteristic of all lovely teachers, because without it, not of the other traits they have discussed can fully mature. Lovely teachers routinely think about & reflect on their classes, their students, their methods, & their materials. They compare & contrast, draw parallels & distinctions, review, remove & restore. Failing to observe what happens in our classes on a every day basis disconnects us from the teaching & learning technique, because it is impossible to generate connectivity in case you have disconnected yourself.
Lovely teachers adjust & adjust to meet student needs.
Can they claim to have taught a class in geography if no learned any of the ideas in the lesson from our presentation? If none of our students ever pick up a book outside of the classroom, have they taught them to be better readers? They don't always think about these issues, but they are at the heart of effective teaching. A great lesson plan & a great lesson are entirely different things; it is lovely when follows the other, but all of us know that it doesn't always work out that way. They teach so that students will learn, & when learning doesn't happen, they must be willing to devise new strategies, think in new ways, & usually do anything feasible to revive the learning technique. It is fabulous to have a pleasant methodology, but it is better to have students engaged in lovely learning.
Lovely teachers are comfortable with not knowing.
In the event that they reflect honestly & thoughtfully on what happens in our classes, they will often find dilemmas they cannot immediately resolve, questions they cannot answer. In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke suggests that his correspondent, "try to love the questions themselves as in the event that they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way in to the answer" (1986, pp. 34-35). In the same way, our teaching benefits in the event that they can live for a short time with a query, think & observe, & let an answer generate in response to the specific situation they face.
Lovely teachers had lovely role models.
Think back again to your best teachers. How has your own teaching been formed by their practices, consciously or unconsciously? Think also of the worst teacher you ever had. Are there things you absolutely won't do because you keep in mind how devastating they were to you or your classmates? They learn to teach gradually, & absorb ideas & practices from a variety of sources. How lots of movies have you seen that include a teacher as a character, & how might those films have contributed to your practice? They are not always aware of the influences on our teaching, lovely & bad; reflecting on the different models of teaching they have acquired, & taking a glance at how they acquired them, makes us better able to adjust & adjust to suit new challenges.
Lovely teachers enjoy their work & their students.
This may appear obvious, but it is simple to lose sight of its importance. Teachers who enjoy their work & their students are motivated, energized, & inventive. The opposite of enjoyment is burnout-the state where no & nothing can spark any interest. Notice, , that enjoying your work & enjoying your students may be different things. Focusing much on content may make students feel extraneous, misunderstood, or left out. Focusing exclusively on students, without an eye to content, may make students feel understood & appreciated, but may not help them to accomplish their educational goals as quickly as they'd like. Achieving a balance between the extremes takes time & attention; it demands that they observe closely, assess carefully, & act on our findings.
I would love to conclude with a poem by Lao-Tzu, the Chinese scholar to whom the Tao Te Ching is attributed. I have carried a replica of this poem with me for lots of years, & I find its message both helpful & challenging. It reminds us that lovely teaching is not a static state, but a constant technique. They have new opportunities to become better teachers every day; lovely teachers are the ones who seize more opportunities than they miss.