Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Teachers: People Who Make A Difference

July 12, 1999

What makes a good teacher?

To answer this question, I visited with my son-in-law who is a teacher. I interviewed teachers about this topic. I visited a highly successful alternative high school and talked to students about what they thought of their school.

I have two daughters who aspire to be teachers. My wife, Darlene, is a trained teacher and a lifelong piano teacher. She is an adult learner, both at Concordia College and in Russia where she is currently studying Russian with a teacher, Alona. She e-mailed her thoughts on this topic. Here is how she describes the extra things her teacher does for her and the other students:

"What does Alona get out of all this. Nothing personally. She just wants to help. A good teacher looks at the needs of the students and not the income generated by the student. It takes the gift of love and service to be a really good teacher.

"Alona has a very logical plan she is working toward. She knows what she is doing and has many ways of doing it. If one way doesn't work, she tries another. She deals with the individual's capabilities and not her own timetable. A good teacher has incredible patience.

"One comment or act on a bad day can stay with a learner for the rest of his or her life. Students are vulnerable. They are in the hands of the teacher. If the teacher is to teach, he or she must have the trust of the student. That trust is a precious commodity and is necessary for motivation and progress.

"It is very important that a teacher not judge a student negatively. Be aware of the individual but only in a climate of understanding and helping. First: love for the students, and second: love and skill in teaching the subject. And then lots of patience to see the whole process through."

Showing dedication and love. The teachers I talked with emphasized the importance of dedication required to be a good teacher. It isn’t about an 8 to 5 day, but about reaching students’ hearts and minds - to make a difference in students’ lives.

The incentive in teaching isn’t about money. It is about sacrifice. It’s about love - love of kids, love of subject matter, love for the people they work with, and love for the creative process of teaching. That love is manifest in extra hours, energized lesson plans, and most of all, one-to-one involvement and caring for students.

Teachers are role models for life. "Little eyes are watching." How a teacher lives his or her life gives credibility to their teaching.

The students at the alternative high school who are preparing for graduation made these observations:

"The teachers are great! It’s not easy. They make you think. I respect them."

"They are our friends. They care what happens to you."

"I’ll miss the teachers. This school has been like a second home."

Dealing with problem behavior. Many people complain about youth and the problems in society but how many are getting in there and doing something about it? Teachers do. A teacher may be the only consistent person in a child’s life. For too many children, school is a main source of their security.

Children want to be treated equally with respect, dignity and fairness. Discipline has to be fair, predictable and consistent. "Praise the right, not just react to the wrong." "Accept each child for him or herself. Don’t compare children." "Children don’t like to be singled out."

One teacher finds that often when she digs beneath the surface of a problem behavior, there are reasons why children act the way they do. "It is remarkable that they are doing as well as they are when you consider what they are dealing with at home."

Meeting individual needs. A good teacher meets each individual’s needs, knows learning styles of the kids and how to reach them. A teacher gets to know their likes, what they identify with on a personal level and establishes rapport on a different level than pure teaching.

A teacher is a friend. A teacher shares his or her life. A teacher encourages a child to share things from their life. The student and teacher find something in common. It is often in the extras and the extra-curricular activities that these relationships are formed.

Making learning fun. A teacher makes learning fun. Despite all the paperwork, bureaucracy, and mandated guidelines, a teacher has to be creative, flexible and excited. Students can tell when teachers go through the motions of tired lesson plans. Like it or not, teachers have to compete with technology that places high expectations on entertainment, and fast moving, animated, visual effects.

Making a difference. When my daughter Tawny returns from Mongolia, she’ll continue to pursue her degree in math education. When she was filling out the application forms for college a few years back, she was asked to name three people who were inspirational in her life. One of those people was her 7th grade science teacher, Mrs. Gill. That teacher made a difference!