Irene learns about teaching: Part 1a

Who’s your model?

Think back to a teacher you admire and consider their motivational, interpersonal and intellectual skills. I know what I am supposed to say – good teachers motivate their learners, have highly rated interpersonal skills and are content experts. This question is leading to a recognition that teaching is more than just an expert who imparts facts and walks out of the room. However, my favorite teachers were a pair of kinda grumpy old men.

My favorite teachers were not what you would call “highly motivational” in a cheerleader or coach kind of way. They had high expectations of their students and were enthusiastic about their subjects. You could tell that they thought what they had to teach was important and were able to articulate why I, as a student, would want to know this. And at the same time, there was an expectation that I would either choose to motivate myself to do the work to learn it, or I wouldn’t. If I did, they would be there to help me when I stumbled; if I didn’t, well good luck with that.

My favorite teachers were not what you would call “highly personable” and perhaps even a bit unapproachable. They were not kind, grandfatherly figures ready with a sympathetic ear. They were more no nonsense, tell me what you need and please, no tears dudes who would respond to a rational explanation but were not going to feel sorry for you or let you waste their time.

My favorite teachers were content experts and the courses they taught were tough ones. They were certainly intelligent and had a dry sense of humor that many of my fellow students did not get. But I do see a difference from the “sage on the stage” model in that they also cared about their ability to teach; to make their content understandable with out watering it down; to be fair, clear and reasonable in their application of grades and class rules; and to provide authentic opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

It is worth reviewing what motivational, interpersonal and intellectual skills you bring to your teaching beyond your content expertise because simply being an expert or even someone who learned at a high content level does not make you an effective teacher. I am glad I had my grumpy old man teachers and while I don’t have to be one, I can still learn from their example.

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