Friday, June 23, 2006

Teaching - what makes a great teacher?

My university put on a series of programs this year designed to get faculty thinking about what makes a great teacher. Some aspects change, of course, depending on the field of study, but it was quite thought-provoking and eye-opening to see how much applied regardless of topic. I was most impressed by, from all the list of attributes and great ideas, the thought that great teachers reach students by offering themselves.

Thinking about the handful of best teachers I ever had, I think this is what set them each apart. I had many teachers who were creative, or organized, presented clearly and challenged students. But the very best teachers, the ones whose teaching live in my memory after decades, were the people who were most themselves with the class. They did not just offer "war stories." They offered their thoughts, their observations and wisdom along with the subject matter they taught.

It actually takes a great deal of courage to offer your own self to your students. What if they laugh? What if they are indifferent? How devastating! It is an act of ultimate trust and generosity.

I began veering more that direction after I received tenure. I think that vote of confidence in me as a colleague gave me the courage to offer myself more openly to my students. I have been pleasantly surprised at the students' response. At least most of them recognize the generosity of the offer and take the gift in the spirit I offer it. It may make it easier for me that so many of my students are older than the typical college to law school age group. That added maturity gives me more confidence in making this offer.

I dance a tightrope each semester -- how much to reveal, how much to confide, how much actually enhances the class, and when it becomes too much and steps over the correct teacher-student boundary. I am slowly changing how I teach, and finding my way. I benefit each time I observe others teaching, too. What I see over and over, the best teachers teach from their own identity, and offer the student the gift of themselves.

I added this e-card from Listen to your heart, seemed like a good message to end with.

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