SPRINGVILLE—Tuesday, May 9, is National Teachers Day. There is an earmark of genuine quality in our American educational system. And that earmark rests solidly with teachers who possess subject mastery and who are thoughtfully creative, and most importantly, are genuinely caring for each student as a distinct individual.
If one were to ask you the names of your favorite teachers from kindergarten and throughout your schooling, it may be not too difficult to answer. Without doubt, there is one specific teacher or more perhaps, who stands out in your mind. Also, there may be some satisfaction in answering – it may bring back some of the more fond memories of school and those who have touched your life in meaningful or even inspiring ways. And, the memory of those good teachers last a lifetime, for sure, teachers leave an indelible impact.
Good teachers and good teaching, what a blessing they are to students. Good teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason. Good teaching is about caring for your students, and thoughtfully putting your finger on their intellectual, mental, social and identity pulse. And, a good teacher is artfully empathetic to the makeup of the whole child, and his or her total personality, including hereditary and environmental factors notwithstanding.
All good teachers have a mastery of the subject they teach, and of the art and science of teaching and learning, they have a passion for it. Good teaching is based upon solid research of child growth and development, differentiation and adaptation. It is about conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to your students. It is about letting students know that they are important to you, that you care about them, and that you are there for them, each of them. Good teaching is about turning students on to the success, joy and excitement in learning. Good teachers are determined not to turn students off, but to inspire them to appreciate new concepts and master new skills.
Most students require reinforcement by a supportive and nurturing teacher. For the gifted and talented students, a good teacher provides learning experiences at the operational level of the learner. For some other students, the need for constant positive reinforcement is also most necessary. These students, for one reason or another, have strong feelings of defeat. The defeatist attitude is consistently reinforced by failure after failure. When a student is tuned off with a defeatist attitude, “I just cannot learn it,” no amount of repetitious homework, drill exercise or comments such as "you better learn it, it will be on the test" will change that attitude for the better. But rather, the student already has a feeling of sinking further and further into the dark tunnel of the defeatist doldrums. He or she sees no way out of that dark dilemma. In fact, the student may choose to seek other avenues for recognition, positively or negatively.
Teaching at the elementary and secondary level is far more than a teacher unloading information (facts and concepts) and expecting the students to regurgitate back this information in rapid fire order. There is a science to teaching, but it must be artfully and creatively applied. Every student is different, just as every adult is different. And, a passionate, thoughtful and creative teacher is well skilled in determining the precise moment and learning activity that is best geared for a successful learning experience for each individual. That, right there, is the earmark of an extraordinarily talented teacher, core standards notwithstanding.
I am writing this piece because I care about education and I am thankful for what great teachers have done for me. They stood for the students' individual right to academic achievement, I am indebted to the great teachers I have known in years past and in the present. I have seen great teachers in action.
In education, good teaching is based upon solid research, that each learner is developing distinctly as an individual. Excellence in teaching demonstrates that there is a dynamic between the teacher and the individual learner. That, right there, is the heart of instruction. There is no common standards bureaucratic model that can measure this dynamic. Such measurements may work with nuclear power reactors, quantum physics modules or sophisticated business models. So, one might ask, why can't it work with students? As one high school senior put it “students are not robots." In short, in education one size does not fit all.
It is true, standards are absolutely necessary, but they must be comprehensively defined in light of what is known about how students learn. And every learner is wonderfully unique, and it is that special uniqueness that is the challenge for the teacher. Therein, is the science and art of teaching. And, therein is the challenge of establishing educational standards. Hopefully, these standards are not so simplistic, that the genuine powerfulness of the art of teaching is grossly minimized, and, the factual scientific data of child growth and development are degradedly dismissed. This would truly set education back to the dark ages. For the art and science of teaching truly trumps any standards that stand in the way a child's inherent eagerness to learn. For each learner is unique, and the learning and teaching style needs to be artfully tailored to that uniqueness. Standards, that weaken the fabric of employing strategic teaching strategies, cannot help but be a disservice to a population of students eager to learn. Good teachers, what a gift they are! The bottom line, artfully skilled teaching is truly the genius of American education.