What Makes a Good Teacher? (Intro)

I have been thinking a lot about the future of education in America lately and I am not sure exactly what direction we are going to be traveling, but I have a feeling something big is going to be coming.  And, I say that because I felt like all of the battles of the last decade are beginning to slow down with some seismic shifts that will change our profession forever.  The money that that has been thrown at the problem has not helped, students are still stuck or are unsuccessful, and in reality we are almost fighting the exact same problems that have been fought over two centuries of educating American citizens.  Our shouting has gotten louder and faster with the internet, but the same problems continue to plague a country that regards the individual as responsible for the outcome of his or her life.    

I have no answer to our problems and in reality after studying the history of the American education system the process of this problem being totally solved in my lifetime are extremely small.  Since the founding of American schools the system has always been under attack and caused people angst.  The debate is always the same about pedagogical methods, the “New” educational system, who is to blame, and one generation's distrust of the new coupled with different demands for a different time, culture, or space.  America has always demanded that a teacher do the impossible and those demands have just increased over time to a place where we as a profession are now expected to cure social and psychological ills, while providing a quality education.  The profession is also bound by the system that which dictates the requirements for sound pedagogical progress while at the same time telling teachers that they cannot step outside the bounds of the system to meet those goals, even if the system is failing in those places.  Teachers are often told to “be creative”, but then when they are observed the “look fors” are the sound pedagogical “best practices” that have changed very little over time.  Or when new systems are tried they often do not take into account what they are asking for is almost inhuman in the amount of detailed feedback that one human being must give to students that probably has over one hundred pupils to attend too.  These fights tend to be cyclical, rehash the same old debates, and make very little progress.    

Now, in saying all of this, I still feel as a teacher that I need to take responsibility for myself and what I can achieve on my own.  Most people have an ideal of what a good teacher looks like in their minds and it is often associated with teachers they connected with at some point in their lives.  In my own mind I have several people that firmly challenged me and helped me become the person that I am today.  There was my second grade teacher that scared the hell out of me, often gave me stomach aches, and was always consistent with discipline/sending my papers home with the return and sign stamp, but is the person that I basically credit with really teaching me how to read in a way that became my foundation and my love of books.  There was my fourth grade teacher who was difficult, but increased my ability to stay focused, stretch my abilities, and helped me get organized without me needing my parents help.  There was the Nun that I had in 8th grade that would ask me to take a out a blank piece of paper to take a quiz without telling me what the quiz was on because she told us the day before what to study (Sometimes she did and sometimes I think she forgot.  Either way, I usually did poorly on them because I was never exactly sure what I was supposed to write down, but I usually just started writing all kinds of stuff.), but at the same time let us retake all quizzes, allowed me to build 3d puzzles in her room at recess, and had built some projects that I have never forgotten and cherish having completed to this day.  There was my 8th grade US history teacher that taught me how to take notes, how to study them, and went in depth in content that I still reference when talking with my own students.  Or my two history teachers in high school (I had one 3 years and one for one year) that laid the foundation for my understanding of Geography, US History, American government, and World history.  All of these people, looked and acted like a teacher, even though they were all very different.  They also opened the world to me and inspired me to become the teacher I am today.  They also were people that took responsibility to make their classes better, to ask themselves what a good teacher would do, and did it all without the threat of uniform standards or federal/state punitive measures or fancy new technology that we have today.  They did it because they loved teaching, wanted to share their content with me learner, and to help me grow in their own individual way.  So, when I think of teaching and what makes a great teacher I always try to remember that it doesn’t always look the same, but the end goals usually came from a place of love, even if it did not feel like it at the time to me as a child.  

Since we are in a time of great change and I am often powerless to deal with the forces that swirl around my profession, I want to take some time to look at what exactly makes a good teacher in our current 21st century context.  What that looked like for my teachers will be different than what I plan to talk about in these few posts, but I have been thinking deeply about what exactly is going on in our profession, where we might go, and how my next twenty years might be spent in the field of education.  I am sure that I am going to get some things wrong and some will take issue with what I might have to say, but I would like to add to the conversation.  I want to be able to say when I am old, this is what I thought, what I did, and I am satisfied.  

I hope you will enjoy the next few posts about:
What Makes A Good Teacher?

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