What Does It Take To Teach?

28 Jun

It’s Tuesday and I feel like getting philosophical with you about Education. What makes a great teacher and what does it take to teach? This is a question that has been going through my mind a lot recently. During my MFA, I constantly said I didn’t think that I would ever be a teacher. Not because I hate the idea of teaching or because I thought it would be too much work or not worth the pay but because I was insecure about my abilities to teach. So as post-MFA ideas swirl through my head the idea of teaching seems to resurface over and over again.

Everyone I know says I would be a great teacher. Truth be told I love to educate people. I’m pretty great about explaining concepts and I love helping people gain new understanding but I’ve never felt that was good enough. As a perfectionist I sort of feel that I have to know everything in order to be a great teacher and I’m slowly coming to the realization that, I really don’t have to know everything. When I consider my favorite teachers, they didn’t know everything and it didn’t change anything.

What makes a great teacher(from my experience)?

Investment in Students. You see this in the movies all the time. Every other teacher has been put in this classroom full of hard knock kids and they all fail because they give up. Then in walks the teacher who has too much drive, faith and hope to give in and this changed everything. As cheesy as it sounds you do need faith in your students and a little drive. My fifth grade teacher, Ms. R, was great about this. I didn’t have a great elementary school experience, I faked ill and often didn’t come to school to avoid some bullies. I could have ended up like a lot of children, and been lost in the system. This was pre-No Child Left Behind and I could have easily been moved up into the next class. But Ms. R didn’t give up on me. She made time to go over information with me, let me use her electronic word processor (yes I mean no-internet computer)  and really invested herself in making sure that I not only moved into sixth grade but that I understood what I needed to in order to succeed.

 Ability to Act as a Resource. I have told myself that I can’t be a teacher because I don’t know everything but I think whats truly important isn’t that you know everything but that you know how to find out about things. This is something that I use in my current job all the time. I am not an expert on every activity that we do or on every procedure but I am great about using my resources, not just talking to people but also looking at emails, using google, and thinking things through. A great teacher knows how to show her students how to use their resources so they can be a success on their own.

Passion. This one is sort of cliché but I still think its true. It’s the issue that organizations with alternate teaching experiences (i.e.- Teach for America, etc) are trying to help with. It’s not always about what you know but sometimes the desire to do it is enough to get you through. I’m not saying you shouldn’t know anything about the subject that you’re teaching but I’m saying that not having a credential or a  Master’s or whatever doesn’t mean you aren’t a great teacher.  The thing I loved about College and one of the reasons that I think so many people enjoy learning in the college classroom is that the professors are all engaged in what they are teaching. It’s related to their research or their core intellectual interests and in most cases you can tell by the way they teach. For those teaching K-12, it’s not so easy.  There are so many requirements for what teachers must teach and these days they tend to be teaching toward a test and not general education and the desire to engage students in something interesting. This can drag them down. It’s sad to see and this, in my opinion, is one of the reasons why we see a lot of new teachers high tailing it to the corporate world instead of continuing teaching. I hope we can work on this issue and instill passion in our teachers.

The other reason why teaching is on the brain for me is my degree. If you don’t know the MFA (Master’s in Fine Arts) is a terminal degree. That means I could teach in college if I wanted to. Which is a scary thought, do you want a 23-year-old teaching your 20-year-old? It feels weird to even consider the possibility. Sadly, for a lot of my peers specifically in community colleges I would be younger than they are and their teacher. I don’t know how I would feel about it if I were in the class. My MFA professors said that age isn’t really important when you’re teaching but I don’t know if it means nothing at all. And if age matters should I be waiting a few years before really considering the career?

So what does this mean for me? Right this second nothing. But the more that I think about my future the more teaching maybe an option. If you’d asked me six months ago if I would be thinking this way, I’d have told you were nuts. Instead, I’m seriously considering it.

Are you a teacher? What do you love most about teaching? What advice would you give people who are considering teaching? If you’re not a teacher, what qualities do you think make a great teacher and what qualities do you think are essential if you are going to teach? I look forward to your thoughts!


One Response to “What Does It Take To Teach?”


  1. Thursday Treat: Links I’m Lovin 8/18/2011 « Limited Edition Love - August 18, 2011

    […] when I asked what makes a great educator? GOOD got a few […]

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