Jewish World Review Oct 18, 2011 / 20 Tishrei, 5772
What Makes a Great Teacher?
By Paul Greenberg
I have no idea what kind of job
I do know she's just been picked as the only teacher in the state of
The award includes a cash stipend
I also know that Ms. McKenna must be a great teacher if she conducts her classes as eloquently and from-the-heart as she spoke when presented with about the highest honor an American teacher can receive.
It was quite an occasion at -- and for -- the
The only thing the kids and teachers knew was that they were to attend a school assembly that morning to hear from some bigwigs -- like the governor and the state's commissioner of education. Supposedly in observance of the Month of the Young Adolescent. (Everybody and everything's got a month these days.)
Then, out of the blue, the president of the
And so Mr. Milken established an institute to present the Milken Awards to the best teachers in the country. They're chosen after an extensive search and then an exhaustive winnowing process. Here in
When her name was announced, the school assembly erupted in cheers and tears for one of its own. No one seemed more stunned and tearful than the lady who teaches English as a second language to sixth and seventh graders at J.O. Kelly.
If courage is grace under pressure, sincerity may be grace when you're suddenly hauled up before an assembly of your friends, fellow teachers, the press, leading public officials and your principal. And presented with the highest honor in your profession. Here is what Ms. McKenna said through her tears:
G0d is good.
Dreams come true.
I wasn't the (most gifted and talented) student in my school.
I wasn't the best athlete of the year.
I wasn't asked to prom.
I want to tell you that this is such an awesome experience to just be a teacher and to love you and to let you know that dreams come true.
Who wouldn't want to have such a teacher? Or, even better, to have her teach your child? For all of us want our children to be better than we are. And to be the best they can be, they need the best of teachers.
But a great award does not a great teacher make.
What then does make a great teacher?
Years ago I asked somebody who ought to be know -- an economist turned educational analyst who'd spent years studying how to improve American education.
What makes a great teacher?
"We don't know," said the professor.
But you know what a great teacher is when you've been lucky enough to have had one.
Great teachers may have different backgrounds, approaches and specialties. Each may be one of a kind. But they all share that common quality we have no better word for than -- greatness.
What makes a great teacher? You might as well ask what makes a great artist.
Maybe they're just born. If so, they have to be born again by dint of effort, dedication and/or genius.
Everybody's got a favorite theory about teaching, especially if he's never taught a day in his life. Theories about teaching abound; those who excel at it are rare.
Most of us know that the teacher is all-important in education -- and the great ones are unique. What they supply can't be delivered by an impersonal system you work out on a spreadsheet. It's got to be a product of the chemistry between teacher and taught.
Maybe the secret ingredient is love.
Sure, you can teach somebody a superficial technique or mechanical calculation without any great involvement with the student, but without that indefinable something, you can't make it part of their core, their inner being, the way they think and feel and act and go through life. For that, you need a great teacher.
Give schools great teachers and they will be great schools. It's a simple as that -- and as complicated.
Want to fix American education? Give us more unique
Great people make a great difference. And that truth applies to more than education:
Want to fix the American economy? Give us more Steve Jobses and Thomas Edisons, not quick fixes like Quantitative Easing or Short-Term Stimulus, another Jobs Bill or 9-9-9, or whatever the next economic panacea will be.
Want to spur American finance and philanthropy? Give us more George Peabodys and
Want to fix American politics? Give us great politicians. Give us more Franklin D. Roosevelts and
Want to fix American business? Give us another
Want to fix our cities? Find us another
Want to make baseball the National Pastime once again? Give us another
Want to fix American statecraft, banking, public finance? Just give us another
Yes, it's a romantic notion, the idea that greatness cannot be just be rolled off some assembly line, that it's more a matter of individual genius and talent and character than the product of any system.
Just what is greatness? How does it come about? It's a mystery. Call it an act of grace. Unlikely as it may seem to doubters, G0d is good, and dreams come true.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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