ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Great Teachers: Made or Found?

Updated on November 11, 2015
cam8510 profile image

Chris practices free writing which often produces humorous or introspective results with practical applications to living life more fully.

Sandy with our sons Scott (left) and Dan on her final day of teaching before retirement in 2007.
Sandy with our sons Scott (left) and Dan on her final day of teaching before retirement in 2007. | Source

"Effective teachers need to be mined out of the larger population. Effective teachers have the innate qualities of passion, desire for knowledge and the ability to communicate. These individuals need to be found and nurtured to do what nature has equipped them to do, and that is to teach." cm

Be careful what you talk about at Thanksgiving dinner.
Be careful what you talk about at Thanksgiving dinner. | Source

What Will Actually Work?

Next time you are at a dinner party, subtly steer the topic of conversation toward public education. There will be no awkward silences for the rest of that evening. Although there may be some strained relationships. Everyone knows there is a problem and everyone seems to have a personal, favorite solution. What is the solution for U.S. public Education? What will actually work?

The Best Teacher I Have Ever Known

I received a B.A. in Biblical Education. That is a long way from public school education, but it gave me a place from which to observe what was going on in the system as my children grew. In the early nineties, my wife decided to go back to school and complete her education. She chose teaching to be the profession which she would pursue.


As a result of observing my wife as a teacher, I have discovered three essential qualities of effective teachers.

Sandy and son Dan.  Whatever they're doing, it's related to science.
Sandy and son Dan. Whatever they're doing, it's related to science. | Source

Passion and Enthusiasm for Teaching and for What is Being Taught

My first lesson about education came from observing my wife’s attitude toward some of the courses she was required to take. She despised education courses. This caused me concern at first, because she supposedly wanted to be a teacher. But then I understood why she had such a negative attitude toward these classes. They were dry, boring and did nothing but teach theory. My wife wanted to be a science teacher with a passion. She wanted to take Science classes where she would learn about astronomy, geology (her favorite), meteorology and chemistry. Whenever she was told she had to take a certain education course as a prerequisite to a particular science course, she pursued the department heads until she got her way. I just sat back and laughed as they tried to take her on. How hilarious. She graduated in 1995 and began teaching that same fall.

Sandy and son Scott on family "Science" vacation in Newfoundland
Sandy and son Scott on family "Science" vacation in Newfoundland | Source

For twelve years, Sandy excelled at teaching according to anyone’s standard. Students wanted her classes, parents wanted their children in her classes. What age, you ask, did she teach? She taught Eighth grade. That’s right, she chose to teach, liked to teach, passionately taught thirteen and fourteen year old intra-pubertal, early teens. These are the kids who have trouble deciding whether to go to the school dance to see that hot guy or girl or stay home and play with legos or Barbie Dolls. It’s a tough age for everybody involved. And her students sensed that she genuinely liked what she was doing as a teacher. She was enthusiastic about the act of teaching as well as about the subjects she taught. That is the first thing I learned as an observer. The kids know if their teachers genuinely love what they do and what they teach.

Thorough Knowledge of the Subject Being Taught

I continued my observations. Sandy didn’t stop learning after college. She checked out every book in our public library on the subjects she taught, and she read them. Family vacations became science field trips, something that is a valued memory and a source of good humor for my sons and me to this very day. Students know if a teacher has a firm grasp of the subjects they teach. And if the teacher doesn’t care enough to continue educating themselves, how can we expect students to care about learning from them?

Sandy and her 2006 class on Glacial Geology Field Trip.  The class is on top of a 250 foot high Terminal Glacial Moraine overlooking Lake Michigan.
Sandy and her 2006 class on Glacial Geology Field Trip. The class is on top of a 250 foot high Terminal Glacial Moraine overlooking Lake Michigan. | Source
Students on and around a glacial erratic boulder.  If you don't know, look it up.  There will be a quiz tomorrow.
Students on and around a glacial erratic boulder. If you don't know, look it up. There will be a quiz tomorrow. | Source

Glacial Geology Fieldtrip

Definitions of glacial geology terms

The following glacial features and actions were observed and/or discussed in the field. The list is not complete because I am making it from memory and I'm getting old.

  • Kame
  • Esker
  • Drumlin
  • Crevasse
  • Crevasse Filling
  • Terminal Moraine
  • End Moraine
  • Lateral Moraine
  • Medial Moraine
  • Calving
  • Kettle Lake
  • Erratic
  • Plucking
  • Uplift
  • Perched Dunes

The Ability to Effectively Communicate to the Appropriate Age Group

Then I observed Sandy actually communicating knowledge to her students. She had eager learners because they were caught up in her enthusiasm and trusted her knowledge. Sandy did lecture sometimes, but everything was reinforced and illustrated with hands on projects that actually meant something. Her room looked as it should have looked, like a science classroom. Depending on the science unit being studied, the room was equipped with the appropriate supplies and materials to do and to discover. Her geology unit was the high point of each school year. We lived, and I still do live, in Northern Michigan. Glaciers covered this area 12,000 years ago and left their imprints here which are still observable to this day. So Sandy took all one hundred fifty of her students out into Leelanau County, Michigan to observe the glacial geology of the area. In order to make this a highly educational experience, she first went out with two geologists from our area who showed her the different land forms left behind by glaciers that once towered from a half mile to two and a half miles high. It wasn’t actually one field trip, but five, spread out over five days. Students anticipated the field trip from their first day in eighth grade. Parents were eager to go, even people who did not have children in Sandy’s class or had no children at all, wanted to go. The Superintendent of schools went along one year. The field trip actually encapsulated all three of the essential elements of an effective teacher that I have shared, which are genuine enthusiasm, thorough knowledge and effective communication.

What Is the Solution

How do we work this into our schools? What we can do is to begin recruiting potentially effective teachers from among high school seniors and junior college students. With the aid of the current teaching staffs, promising students, along with their parents could be brought together with college representatives to discuss the possibility of a future in the teaching profession. It might be similar to what happens now with high school athletes being recruited by colleges and universities. Part of the criteria would be the three observations I have presented about effective teachers. It is my opinion that effective teachers need to be mined out of the larger population. Effective teachers have the innate qualities of passion, desire for knowledge and the ability to communicate. These individuals need to be found and nurtured to do what nature has equipped them to do, and that is to teach. We need to pay our effective teachers well, but simply dangling a big paycheck out there will only attract more of the same passionless, unknowledgeable and ineffective communicators that we have now. But this only deals with half the issue. I believe that the education programs of many colleges and universities are in as bad or worse shape than public schools.

Good teachers are in a class of their own

Why Are All the Good Teachers Crazy?
Why Are All the Good Teachers Crazy?

I have heard this question many times. Good teachers certainly are in a class of their own. This book is also available in Kindle edition for $9.99

 

Is there Hope?

Is public education in the United States beyond hope? I say no. It could only be considered hopeless if there had never been a successful teacher in the system. But there are effective teachers. If they can do it, then it should be able to be duplicated and, in time, made the norm for teachers in public schools.

Sandy Mills May 11, 1962 to April 1, 2008

It is only fair to you the reader for me to explain what has happened in reference to my wife, this awesome teacher, mother and wife. Three years after she began teaching she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She continued teaching for nine more years as she went through the various cancer treatments of which most of us are familiar. On April 1, 2008 she passed away and has been sorely missed by her family, friends, coworkers and students.

Solutions to the Crisis in U.S. Public Education

In light of the crisis in U.S. public education, which of the following do you consider to be the most viable solution?

See results

Teachers' Unions and the Crisis in U.S. Public Education

What part do teachers' unions play in the crisis in U.S. public education

See results

Governments Role in Education

What part should State and Federal government play in education?

See results

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      carozy, thank you for that. I appreciate you stopping by and reading. I glanced at your profile and you have a lot of experience and interests. When a person teaches, they draw from every part of their lives. Good luck to you.

    • carozy profile image

      carozy 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Great article and I'm sorry for your loss. I am considering going into teaching after I have money saved for more education. I appreciate your thoroughness and the wisdom in this article.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      ann, Based on the amount of information the teachers are required to cover based on benchmarks, I agree. It is very difficult for them to do much more than mention each one, which is relatively worthless to the broadening of the students' knowledge base. It makes the school look good though.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Mr-veg, I do appreciate your visit and comments.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 4 years ago from SW England

      I don't know about the USA but here we need much longer time spent in the classroom; you are right that new teachers should show their worth in the workplace before being allowed to take up their positions.

    • mr-veg profile image

      mr-veg 4 years ago from Colorado United States

      Chris, thats a nice article. I do try to teach around whenever I get time, someday I would like settle down, get a school of my own and spread knowledge around ! Your suggesstions are all noted down :)

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Ann, thank you for those comments regarding my wife and thanks for your valuable input on the topic. I agree it would be difficult to identify potentially effective teachers, but we do it with sports. It is a matter of establishing criteria, mobilizing people to communicate with the person/parents, financial assistance when appropriate. Things like these can be done and would get us farther than a lot of the programs being used.

      If we start with potential teachers who have the right motivation, then they will be more effective. People often pursue teaching because they get summers off, benefits are usually very good, pay is better than they would get most places. Financial motivation will never produce good teachers. It is no excuse to not pay them well, but it will not produce excellent teaching.

      People can't go into banking because of the pay if they don't have good skills with math and money. People cant' be high rise construction workers if they are afraid of heights. People shouldn't be teachers if they don't like children, don't like to learn, aren't excited about their subject.

      Teaching is one of those occupations which has as its only criteria a question: "For whatever reason, do you want to teach?" If the answer is yes, then that person is treated as a qualified candidate.

      It is only after all the education is completed that they are introduced to the classroom for student teaching. I can hear it in their minds now, "Ooops, I guess I really don't like this, but I've invested all this time and money so I have to become a teacher."

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 4 years ago from SW England

      I agree whole-heartedly with your points here. Students always know when you're on the ball or not, whether you enjoy what you do or not, whether you are prepared to impart your knowledge with them in an inspiring way or not.

      We have the same problem in Britain in that teacher training is not good enough, does not deal with essential qualities and does not whittle out the chaff when it should. Half the trouble is that the government change the system too often (because none of them has been in a classroom either for years or at all). However, going out there to find them would be difficult, though not impossible; maybe better work experience in the sixth forms or colleges would help.

      Your wife was obviously an amazing person; what a shame she didn't get the chance to contribute even more to so many people's lives. This is a great reflection on her. Up etc. Ann

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Exfloration, most people have strong feelings about education, especially people like you and me who have seen the system work/not work up close. Thanks for all your input.

    • profile image

      Exfloration 4 years ago

      Thanks for the response, Cam. I'm sorry if my comment came off as aggressive or critical-this is just a topic I get fired up about! It sounds like your wife was a pretty awesome lady who never backed down on her principles and held her students to high standards. You're right, we could use a lot more people like her.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Exfloration, I do not disagree with you on any point you made. I wrote the article in response to a FaceBook post by a local radio personality where I live. His post was focused on teachers and so my response followed suit. I recognize every single thing you mentioned. I remember those things well. The problem is clearly multifaceted and I do regret not being more clear about that in my article. But the problem I brought up concerning teachers is very real as well.

      It seems to me that national policies don't have any positive impact on learning. I honestly could never see it. "Teaching to the test" was such an irritating thing for Sandy. She did the best she could with that. Some parents appreciated how tough she was on students. Sandy accepted no late work from anyone. Most parents supported that. There were a few parents that felt their student should have been handled with special rules and exceptions, but Sandy never gave in. Your mother sounds like she was the same kind of teacher. Sandy only taught for twelve years. I often wonder how she would have dealt with it over the long haul of a thirty or more year career. I'm not sure. She went full tilt all the time.

    • profile image

      Exfloration 4 years ago

      Your wife certainly sounds like the perfect teacher. I have no doubt she made a huge and positive impact on her students' lives.

      Unfortunately our education problems in America seem far more complicated to me than a lack of inspired and inspirational teachers. I watched my mom, a passionate ex-lawyer and history/government teacher, struggle again and again with poor school board and management policies that restricted her ability to effectively educate her students. National policies that emphasize test scores also frustrated her, as she was forced to focus on teaching to the test instead of providing more meaningful skills to her students. She also faced constant attacks from parents upset that their child hadn't received an 'A' in her class and holding her at fault instead of asking what they could do to help their child perform better. In many of those cases the child in question had missed huge numbers of classes, didn't turn in assignments, and failed multiple tests. She became so frustrated that, despite her unbridled passion for her subject and her love of being in the classroom, she's given up public-school teaching and now works as a private tutor.

      Our culture also seems distrustful of motivated, educated, articulate people (hence the success of characters like "Joe Six-Pack" on the national political circuit). Being studious in high school doesn't win you social points, athletics departments receive more attention and support within local communities than academic-based clubs, and parents don't hold their children accountable for their studies.

      So while I agree that we should start nurturing potential teachers at an early age, and look for candidates with those three winning qualities, we also have to make sure that our school systems, our media culture, and our parents allow our teachers to succeed.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Martin, It sounds as though there have been teachers who have been very important in your life. while I disagree with them professionally, most are very good people who care for their students.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. I still have strong opinions about the education system as teacher have been the parents I never had. Suffice it to say, I know I did my part to help.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      Thank you pstraubie, It does seem like new programs appear quite regularly. And 40 years is a long time to watch that going on. Thanks for reading and thank you for all your time in the classroom.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Your wife has found the key....engaging the students....Kids need to feel that. After 40 years in the classroom my head reels with the way things have gone. It is in part jumping on whatever new program or theory or idea that comes forth and is touted as the end all for all problems in education.

      It is much much more than that but that is part . Like others I could go on and on.

      I am so glad that your wife chose to teach...her students' lives will be so much better for it (and she will too...it is a two way street...I learned so much from kidoes from the youngest to the oldest).

      Sending to you and her Angels today :) ps

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      billybuc, thanks for reading and commenting. Sandy certainly was a gem, in our family and in the classroom. There are many good teachers and I am sure that includes you. But something is clearly wrong.

    • cam8510 profile image
      Author

      Chris Mills 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO until the end of March

      curiad, I appreciate you reading and commenting. The governmet, in my view, is certainly the main problem.

    • Curiad profile image

      Mark G Weller 4 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

      I agree that the people make the difference. There are many great teachers, but are stifled by the Government. The Gov. needs to be completely removed from the public education system.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I get exhausted talking about education. After eighteen years in the classroom I obviously have opinions, but I'm just going to comment on one aspect of this hub.....your wife is a gem! :)

    Click to Rate This Article