Friday, May 18, 2012

What makes a great teacher? - A student says, "This!"

Guest post by Irene, High School Junior

My old Language Arts teacher never smiled. She kept the blinds closed to keep the sunlight out. She often professed her raging dislike for the art of writing, yet she droned on class after class on the correct format of an outline. I often entertained thoughts that she was an evil witch who fed upon the souls of children. Therefore, you may imagine that after my experience with her, my expectations of Language Arts teachers were, well, low. However, after I changed schools I was lucky enough to take Classical Mythology, as my teacher for that class completely shattered each and every one of my preconceptions.

My Classical Mythology teacher recently transformed his classroom into a temple complete with candles, incense, and offering platters and brought in a woman to pose as an oracle. He told us to prepare for our meeting with the oracle by washing our hair, opening our minds and bringing a relevant and significant gift. He then dressed in white, acted as sibyl and brought each one of us into the "temple". The oracle gave us each prophecies with which to begin our hero's quest.

We had been learning about the hero's quest for a while. Even though there were only five unique prophecies distributed to a class of eight, the assignment was the same. Discover yourself and where you need to go. Write about your own journey and perform it, whatever that means to you, in front of the class.

Although the entire rotunda smelled like incense for the next week, the entire class was energized and excited about their quests. I don't know about any of you, but this is the most epic way a teacher has ever given me an assignment.

My Classical Mythology teacher is one of a kind. He will sit and talk with a student if they come in and ask for his help. He genuinely cares about and connects with each and every one of his students and he commits so much of his time and effort to ensuring that we grow and challenge ourselves. With this oracle experience, he not only gave us an assignment but started each of us on a personal and intellectual journey.

I go to the nation's top arts boarding school. Almost all of the teachers I’ve had here have been extraordinary and inspiring in one way or another. If public schools were able to find teachers as dedicated, engaged and passionate as this one, students everywhere would have the opportunity to begin their own personal quests.



Irene is a junior at Interlochen Arts Academy. She is a composer, a writer and a filmmaker. She is originally from Sammamish, Washington.

12 comments:

  1. "If public schools were able to find teachers as dedicated, engaged and passionate as this one, students everywhere would have the opportunity to begin their own personal quests."

    There are plenty of teachers in public schools who are dedicated, engaged, and passionate and are eager to help be both a companion and guide on any student's personal quest.

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  2. @Anonymous,
    Remember this is written from a student view. From their view they don't see that dedicated, engaged, passionate, eager-to-help teachers often hit a dead end and are forced to do what they know is not best for kids due to inane gov regs and requirements. If the government got out of the business of running schools and left it to the educators, all students, not just those free of gov, could see these the actions of such teachers.

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    1. I know that you have a vast amount of experience that clearly outshines me so my opinion here is not worth it, but working in a public high school each day, I see plenty of students who do see that and are clearly grateful for it and I'm grateful for them as well.

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    2. Lisa, I agree that gov. interference is problematic! However, I'm not sure I follow your thinking, here:

      "From their view they don't see that dedicated, engaged, passionate, eager-to-help teachers often hit a dead end and are forced to do what they know is not best for kids..."

      What you imply here is that students don't see us as dedicated because we're bummed out by the dead-end-compulsory stuff we have to do (required stuff). We run into trouble when we link the two.

      It's possible to teach required stuff with a twist of rigor and creativity. Also, the characteristics you list better refer to a state of mind than a method of presentation.

      If a teacher is passionate, he/she will be passionate no matter the external circumstances. That doesn't mean he/she will necessarily be passionate about the subject or the lesson. I hate teaching poetry, for example, which is bad form for an English teacher! However, I am still passionate. : )

      What this student had the misfortune of dealing with was an individual who hadn't quite latched onto this thinking. Even more unfortunate is the huge comparison to the Classical Mythology teacher who had the time to do all of the really nifty, cool stuff. I'm so glad she had this experience!

      However, we don't necessarily need the fancy stuff to reach kids at this level. It's great fun, but they're also receptive to authentic, honest, reflective discussion. Teenagers really just want to be listened to.

      I talk about this a little in one of my posts: http://joyfulcollapse.blogspot.com/2012/04/mistah-kurtz-he-dead.html

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    3. ==Working in a public high school each day, I see plenty of students who do see that and are clearly grateful for it and I'm grateful for them as well.==
      -@Anonymous

      ==What you imply here is that students don't see us as dedicated because we're bummed out by the dead-end-compulsory stuff we have to do (required stuff).==
      -@Mindy Keller-Kyriakides,

      Please note, I did not say all public school students don't realize this. Some do. Some don't. This post however was written by a private school student who sees a clear difference between the education she is getting when unrestricted from government mandates verses the education that public school students receive. I'm not sure if the student knows the politics behind why private school teachers are given the freedom to teach in ways that work best for students and that public school teachers do not always have such liberties.

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    4. ==If a teacher is passionate, he/she will be passionate no matter the external circumstances.==
      -@Mindy Keller-Kyriakides

      Not true. Many passionate teachers are frustrated by an over-bearing government mandates and are leaving public schools in droves. Where I teach 50% don't make it five years. As I shared in this post (http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2011/02/answer-to-teacher-retention-find.html) they move on to jobs where they can actually make an impact rather than in the current climate that forces them to make their students spend entirely too much time with drill, kill, and bubblefill. There are drive-by test prep collection so that those who don't follow orders are written up.

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    5. I can definitely relate to what you mean by the "drill/kill"! I taught seniors in remedial reading, who had to pass the required state test in order to graduate. Some were reading at 2nd grade level! I don't believe the test our state administers is fair, valid, or reliable, and I fight it every chance I get.

      However, until that day when the test is no longer the focus,I can't let it dull my passion. Together, our class developed a "one-room schoolhouse", that allowed me to work with each student individually or in very small groups. The funny thing is, the students expected "drill and kill", and instead, they got me. We didn't drill and kill because it's of no use...we mastered strategies and evaluated them. Then, we'd do a test question.

      All the while, though, I had to maintain my passion and enthusiasm for their sake, encouraging them and teaching them how to self-motivate, self-evaluate, and self-regulate despite overwhelming odds. If nothing else, I taught a lesson of Character--"How to approach things and handle yourself when things really suck."

      Would it have been easier if I'd been allowed more academic freedom? Sure! However, the goal is to not allow the externals to dictate our mindset in the classroom or in life. That is a powerful lesson to learn and teach because everyone will come up against obstacles, criticism, and bureaucracy at some point. : )

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    6. If only on this blog we could get more stories like this, Mindy. So many of us still have passion despite what is handed to us and there is something to be said about being able to be an effective, outstanding, even ... wait for it ... innovative educator within the current public education system.

      You're only as hamstrung as you allow yourself to be. But that statement doesn't fit the overall message here.

      And btw, is it possible to cut down on the number of bells and whistles on this blog? Loading this page always slows down whatever computer I'm using and has even crashed my browser on occasion.

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  3. Love.<3 The truly dedicated will always find a way to make learning engaging.Golden moments. We teach, not just "cover". Light a fire, don't just fill a cup.

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  4. If I has 8 private school students and no test preparation, I could be Hercules, Zeus and spiderman everyday.

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    1. Yep. True. Interestingly, in many cases the per student spending is about the same as that of public school. It is unfortunate that all students don't have access to models like Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Democratic Schools, Nuestra Escuela, and North Star which don't cost more than public per student but don't believe in many of the restrictions imposed by the government.

      Getting the government out of the business of education, would be a great step toward providing all students the freedom to learn in the best way possible.

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