Who Is a Teacher

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Who is a Teacher?  
By
Joe Waldron
 In the early years of school we are asked to participate in "Show and Tell." Some people dread the experience, some people like it so much they spend the rest of their life looking for things they can share with others. When the Show and Tell bug has bitten the young person the student may become a teacher. There are many good teachers we meet in life; a few of us take it up as a profession.  Why are some people like this? The best of teachers simply enjoy the service: Knowing that one has contributed to the growth of others is an end in itself. I suspect that excellent teachers are also driven by the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself. They just want to know why things happen and are often willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get the best information available.  Teachers are enthusiastic about their topic and delight in sharing what they have learned. Sometimes it seems that they can go on forever about their specialty while denying the idea that they are an "expert." Good teachers will tell you they are students, not teachers.  These two qualities are the primary and distinguishing characteristics of a teacher: Love of knowledge and a love of contributing to the development of others. At times the primary characteristics become contaminated by other drives and needs such as the need for status, authority, exhibitionism and any of many human needs that make us less than who we want to be. Excellent teachers learn to control these needs and to keep them out of the teaching arena as much as possible. Some teachers are better at this than others and they are better or worse teachers because of their abilities to control the extraneous (non-teaching) factors.  Contrary to many opinions, I do not believe that a teacher is necessarily the most skilled at their subject matter. For example, one of the things I enjoy in life is playing pocket billiards and I have noticed that while world champions write books about their sport, they often cannot pass on the "how" and the "why" of some particular esoteric point. They know how they train and they think this is the best way for everyone to train. The best billiards teacher I have found is not a world champion. His "hobby" is a billiards school in Chicago and champions go to him to refine their skills. This teacher is an extremely astute observer, he is articulate, highly knowledgeable and of course he is an excellent player but not a champion. You see he spends too much time doing what he loves most, helping others become champions.  One of the jokes we play on children is to tell them they must hold their mouth in the right way to drive a nail with a hammer. Champions often do this, albeit unintentionally. They know what works for them but they often cannot explain it. In addition, champions are usually involved in their own selfadvancement (as they should be) and do not often have the enthusiasm for helping others learn. That is a different drive.  As a university professor I am always on the look out for people who will make excellent teachers. I pull some students aside and ask them if they have thought about a teaching career. The people I talk with are excellent students of the material (they love it). They are also enthusiastic about the material and like to share (not show off) what they have learned.  One of the signs of a good teacher, and I have had students go on to become excellent teachers, is their initial response, "Oh, I am not good enough to teach. Who would want to listen to me?" There is a true humbleness and often these future teachers must be encouraged and given experiences that show that others want to listen to them. It may sound funny but most good teachers are amazed at first that others want to listen to what they have to say. The little (in their perception) knowledge they have acquired goes a long way because of the way they present it. The right attitudes and being one step beyond the students are the...
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