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What Makes a Great Teacher?
As a seminary professor, I regularly think about how to be a good teacher.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s not just about imparting information, you can get that from reading a book, teaching is a matter of presence, passion, persuasion, and pastoral care.
When I think of the teachers who influenced me and shaped me, most of the time it was not the content that I remembered, it was other things, like how they treated me and their love of the subject.
Here’s what I’ve learned about teaching so far.
First, what students will remember most of all is not anything you said, but how you treated them and how you made them feel.
Student will learn more and grow more if they see you are invested in them and their learning experience.
Second, students don’t want just information, they want inspiration, so burn them with the passion of your belief in the subject as much as about the subject.
I once taught a class on religion at a secular university and many of the students came up to me afterward and said that it was refreshing to have a lecturer who wanted to be there and was actually excited by the topic.
Third, knowledge is not everything, but it is still a thing.
It does help if you know what you’re actually talking about. It’s one thing to admit that subject X is not your primary expertise, but you need a grasp of the area if you are going to be teacher and leader on a topic. So do your preparation and don’t pretend to be smarter than you are. Students can smell a bluff a mile away.
Fourth, the best teaching often happens over email, over coffee, or stumbling into someone at the library.
Students will remember those small conversations, short exchanges, and passing by-the-corridor moments. When you answer their embarrassing question, give them a hint for an essay, give them the low-down on an idea, they remember that stuff and treasure it.
Fifth, encouragement to a student is a pedagogical steroid.
Students can feel insecure, doubt their ability, and wonder where they sit in a student hierarchy, and feel inadequate.
Accordingly, every positive comment, every “well done,” or “good point,” reinforces a culture of learning and makes them believe that they have what it takes to do well in the subject. Encouragement inspires them to do the hard stuff and finish the race.
What about you? What do you think makes a great teacher? What teachers influenced you and how did they do it?