What is good teaching?
Good teaching – oh the word “good” just doesn’t mean anything, now does it – effective teaching is….And what about “effective”? How is THAT defined?
George Mitchell challenged me, pushed me, and he did so not-too-gently. He told me I could be a different writer and was relentless in showing me how. But so was I, relentless in my desire to at first please, but then later, just to explore and experiment. His authority was one that I felt safe deferring to. Religion, literature, history, psychology all slowly merged into a two-year journey of both the world and my place in it, with Mr. Mitchell as my guide. At a towering 6 feet so many inches, his balding pate and baritone bravado commanded the classroom. It was a thrill just to be there. Madame Cardoso lit up the room and with her energy also kindled a passion and enthusiasm that made it easy and exciting to explore the French language. Learning was fun and she was a joy to watch – always smiling, laughing with us, never needing to raise a voice, make a threat, or remind us that we were in a classroom. It didn’t feel like learning, but rather a beautiful climb with scenic vistas. It was a thrill just to be there.
So what is good, what is effective? Looking at these two educators above, a good language or writing teacher (and of all my teachers, the greatest were the ones that taught me how to use words) is a motivator, a challenger, an alchemist, a guide, a performer, a fire-starter, a thrill-inducer. But from these lofty descriptions, what was my role as student in negotiating these challenges, these identities, and interpreting these experiences in education uniquely as I have just tried to do? Were they not first and foremost people who were just doing their jobs?
It sure seems that the most effective teachers in my educational experience were those that reached just a little further, drank just a little more deeply, and most importantly, loved what they were doing to the point where it was no longer a job, but a joy of everyday living. Good teaching is finding something to say and a way to say it that resonates with one’s identity. Good teaching is good living; honesty, passion, fire from the soul.