What makes one teacher’s class a joy and another’s a torture? Were some people simply born to teach? As we remember our favorite teachers, I think we remember a je ne sais quoi, an indefinable quality, about them most. When we ask the world what makes a teacher great, the word “passionate” comes up every time. My favorite teacher is my junior year High School English teacher. Like many of you, I would describe this teacher as passionate, inspiring, enthusiastic… and that these qualities were catching.
In my senior year, I volunteered to be his teacher’s aide during my free period. Having finished entering grades one day, I thought that he might really like his red pens in one spot so they would be readily accessible. I found a few scattered in the slender, middle drawer of his desk. In the same drawer, I also found cards, tri-folded papers, yellow legal paper, and typed notes. Some were long, others short; some were poetic, some more clumsy in their expression. One was from me from the previous year.[quote] Ink spilled across these pages, all saying the same thing: thank you.[/quote]
In adolescence, we are usually pretty egotistical. I know I was at sixteen. While I was in his class, I knew that my friends all thought he was a great teacher and loved going to his class. I might have briefly thought that previous students would have thought so too. Seeing dozens of notes from his many years of teaching concretized my understanding of the great and timeless impact this one man had. He did many things well that any teacher should emulate. He came prepared to teach. He modeled very difficult concepts, like how to ask and answer complex questions of a text. He modeled higher-level reasoning (certainly no easy task). He was enthusiastic about the books we read. He was fun and funny. All of these things engaged his students.
Even still, I wonder what makes one teacher the recipient of hundreds of grateful letters. What makes one teacher able to jostle so many teenagers out of an egocentric view, to see beyond themselves, to see beyond even the frame of that subject? It is as though our best teachers do not teach us merely content so much as how to have studium, zeal. In modeling their topic, the best teachers model how to be great students (derived from the Latin studium), and they truly never cease being students themselves. This is employing the Rule of Two (I do, you do) in the most global sense, and for many of us, it is a lesson that lasts a lifetime.