I think when we’re in high school we see our teachers as those who push, shove, and do whatever they can to get whatever subject they are teaching into our hormone-driven, impatient, angsty, even hostile at times, teenage brains. We protest the homework, complain about the boring class, bemoan the tests, fuss about the teachers, and gripe in general because we are teenagers. At that age, I’m not sure we see individuals who are dedicated to fostering our future success. At that age we may not realize they have personal lives, families, interests, friends, and history separate from that they share with us. Many of us miss actually getting to know the person behind the desk. We see bits and pieces of who they are through the lens of how they affect us as our teacher, whether they are a tough grader or enforce the policies, whether we can sneak in late without repercussion or talk our way into leaving early. The agenda is ours at that age and its rare that we look further.
Later, however, when we look back, we might recognize the other role played by our teachers.
Our teachers model the adult world for us and how they interact with us as teens often impacts not only how we see ourselves later, but may impact our direction, behavior, and expectations. Some teachers seem to be teens in adult clothing and beyond learning the material we see that its okay to goof around and be silly on the job. Others are dictators within their sphere of influence and we resent their imposing what seem to be unreasonable demands on us. Some are able to easily interact with us and yet still earn our respect. And some burn impressions upon our minds, hearts, and lives that help us grow and reach and even soar.
ThreeSixtyJournalism describes today’s good teacher in this way:
• A sense of humor is great, but teachers still need to keep the class focused and learning.
• Be committed to your school and students. Come early and stay late.
• Be fair, and work with every student.
• Don’t let students waste time texting or listening to music in class.
• Don’t drone on in a monotone.
• Be enthusiastic, and get students up, moving and doing things.
• Take time to develop presentations and materials that really engage students in learning.
• Be friendly, but put learning ahead of popularity.
• Have many ways to teach a subject. If one approach isn’t working, try others.
I think something is missing though. I think a good teacher has to reveal something of him or herself to the class that says, “I care.” It’s not just an I care about this job, or I care about this subject, but I care about you, my student.
We’ve all had at least one teacher who stood out as that person that cared, and no matter the subject, that teacher is the one who in some way shaped our perspective.
It was recently revealed that a certain teacher at my high school was a veteran, something unknown to many including those he worked with. This teacher has been described as both quiet and modest. It’s also obvious from comments that this unassuming man impacted lives as he taught a class many whined about having to take. The overall consensus seems to be that he acted with integrity. He wasn’t out to win a popularity contest; he was there to do the right thing.
I think many teachers want only to do the right thing, but because there is so much to-do made over receiving recognition through awards and metrics and satisfaction surveys that the quiet, unassuming, and subtle teacher is often not acknowledged as being the one who teaches skills that have a greater impact on lives that learning the subject. These are the teachers who care enough about their students to do what is right, to model integrity, and to impart character traits to their students. These are the teachers who truly care and the ones we remember for being upstanding individuals. These are the teachers who have played the other roles in our lives – they have shown us how to be good citizens and make good choices even when they aren’t popular. These teachers are more than teachers, they are our best adult role models.
Hats off to all the teachers who focus on doing what’s right, who quietly and with dignity show us how to be good people. Thanks, Mr. Gustafson. It was an honor to be your student. It is a privilege to pay tribute to you.