Teachers Who Make A Difference: The Gift That Lasts A Lifetime!

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Some forty years ago, I learned that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. I have to admit that I’ve never been called upon to use that information, any more than I’ve been called upon to recite the various classical columns in traditional architecture. There’s not a big demand, I guess.

It’s easy for teachers to focus on the curriculum, and the syllabus, or even the test scores, amidst the incredibly busy days teachers encounter. Ultimately it’s not about the Battle of Hastings, though, or any individual bit of information teachers are called upon to teach.

it’s about helping students learn about the joy of learning, the beauty of the subject, and creating lifelong curiosity that will open the doors to lifelong learning. Because this gift that teachers can bestow upon their students launches careers, excellence and successful lives.

My Curiosity Builder Teachers:

I’ve been blessed. In Grade 7, Mrs. Vernycks treated us as equals, and gifted to us an awareness that learning didn’t have to hurt, and needn’t be a useless grind of memorization. In high school, my creative writing teacher, Ms. Smith, taught us that words were magic, and encouraged us to express ourselves without fear or self-consciousness.

In university, my poetry teacher, Richard Summers, taught us to write to communicate feelings with words. And then there were the three Psychology professors who encouraged critical thinking, and taught me the joys of exploring theories, models and different ways of thinking about human being. These professors rescued me from a mediocre university career — no, a failed university career, as I was struggling in a number of courses before I was touched by their passion, and push to think and question.

There were others who “lit the fire” underneath me, and my co-students, many of whom have gone on to have amazing careers in a number of fields, academic and non-academic.

How Did They Do It? What Does It Take?

No doubt parents play a huge role in developing this curiosity and joy in learning, but what set these teachers apart from the other competent teachers who never reached me?

Feel free to comment with your own take but here’s my list of teacher characteristics that launch successful lives and careers:

Passion For The Subject: It doesn’t matter WHAT you teach, but that you love your subject. That passion coupled with teaching skills, of course, gets conveyed to students, because it’s in your body language, your expressions, and everything you do in a classroom.

Knowledge Of The Subject: If you are passionate about what you teach, you will also probably have a depth of knowledge about the subject, and often it’s the teachers who know way more about the subject that is required by the curriculum that succeed.

Ability To Connect The Subject: A lot of what is taught to students seems, at least to students, to be irrelevant to their everyday lives. Teachers who create curiosity and passion in their own students are able to take what can be dry information and help students relate that to their ever day lives. They teach that everything can be relevant if only one looks.

Ability To Connect With Students: Teachers who connect with students, and show they care, and can do so with humor and be supportive acquire much more influence with students than those that don’t.

Encouraging Questions: Teachers who create that life-long curiosity encourage their students to ask the right questions, to think, and not accept things on a surface level. They exemplify “there is no such thing as a stupid question”.

The Gift That Pays Back

I’ve had the honor of supervising practice teaching, trained hundreds of college instructors, and taught at faculties of education, and there is nothing more satisfying than learning that your ability to light a fire under a student was a major factor in their career decisions or life success. It’s the student that took one of my classes and decided to pursue a career in Psychology. It’s the person in one of my classes that realized that teaching could be an incredibly fun and rewarding career. And the auto mechanic from one class who became so excited about education that he pursued (and succeeded) in a career in educational administration.

It’s what keeps teachers going — the knowledge that one can touch a student in a way that positively impacts his or her life. When times get tough, and when getting out of bed to teach is a challenge, it’s the prospect of creating a curious, successful learner that can get you going..

What teacher “lit your fire” and how did he or she do it?

Teachers: What’s the most satisfying “compliment” you received from a student who you inspired?

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