Why not keep the ball rolling here? (part 1, if you haven’t read that)
What teachers from your own education do you see as role models?
Two stand out, for very different reasons:
- Mr. Madrid, my HS history teacher, for translating interest in the subject matter into interesting presentation.
- Mr. Knox, my HS math teacher, for making presentation an art form in itself.
Not to diminish either’s way of doing things, but I’m not sure Mr. Madrid was very keen on identifying and analyzing different teaching approaches and I never got the sense that Mr. Knox really loved calculus. They managed to make their classes interesting with a large degree of what the other lacked, or at least didn’t need.
Mr. Madrid came to class with a menagerie of characters and stories in his head that he couldn’t wait to share with us, and we reciprocated his obvious enthusiasm. History, as we were to discover, is full of odd folks and high drama (also check out the Hardcore History podcast for plenty more of these). Not to take anything away from his accumulated professional experience, but especially in the early years when he was teaching my generation, I’m not sure if he brought much more into the classroom besides lots of content knowledge that he personally found interesting. But this led to his naturally wanting to tell it to us and bring us into the fold of people who knew these interesting things, and that was almost always enough. His infectious level of enthusiasm managed to bridge the gap between his brain and ours.
Although what I teach is not content-heavy in the same way as history, and I can’t tell students very interesting stories which also happen to be on an AP test, I do find my approach to ELT influenced by Mr. Madrid quite a bit. My rule of thumb is, students will find what I say more interesting if I also find it interesting. It’s better to talk with passion about something they might not know yet than feign interest in something generally considered more important. That said, I happen to be the kind of person who finds grammar and words very interesting, and I happen to believe that students’ attending to meaning is important for their language learning success. (I have to say that I think this inclination to find your subject matter interesting and naturally wanting to share it is much more influential on teaching success than sheer volume of content knowledge). So whether I am talking about technical aspects of language or just sharing anecdotes with students, I know that my interest in the topic carries over into my presentation and encourages students to listen to what I have to say. Mr. Madrid is the teacher who reminds me that doing this will result in memorable classes, many of which (“GULAG!”) I and my peers still remember.
Mr. Knox dressed up abstract mathematical concepts in comedy routines and self-consciously silly puns (example: looking out the window at a tree outside, Mr. Knox says: “Symmetry? Isometry.”) In doing so he turned what could be the very driest subject in public education into a laugh-fest. We usually weren’t hanging on his every word because we wanted to understand logarithm functions, but we wanted to get the next joke, and the next joke was in a sentence about logarithm functions. So he got eyes and ears through jokes, and while he had them, he also fed them math. He turned a drive through the open desert into the scenic route.
Interestingly in retrospect, I think Mr. Knox worked this way because he didn’t consider his subject inherently interesting. This makes his approach, in my mind, the polar opposite of Mr. Madrid’s. It also seems much more difficult because it doesn’t hitch its success on the teacher’s interest in the subject matter (which, because teachers previously studied the subject themselves, can be assumed to be present in at least some amount), but rather his/her dedication to the pure craft of teaching as a species of performing art. Mr. Knox might be best described then as a natural performer who happened to have a Mathematics degree. I can imagine Mr. Knox teaching almost any subject with a lot of success, once he has a few years to build up a stable (insert horse joke) supply of puns on that subject.
Mr. Knox is (was?) a serious Christian as well, a fact which everyone knew but was never mentioned in class. This is, of course, in accord with the rules. It also reminds me that while my other model teacher, Mr. Madrid, was always bringing more of himself into the classroom, Mr. Knox carefully left himself out of it. I find this much more difficult.
(I’ve had a lot of great teachers I’m not mentioning here, just in case one of them reads this.)