No doubt about it, the beginning of an enterprise is always more exciting than the middle. At the start, you don’t know the roadblocks and distractions lying in wait. You can’t predict the weariness and frustration that will set in, and you surely don’t expect fear to come creeping in the door. What if people think my work is sorry?
Over a year ago, I began putting together ideas for a book on teaching. Though geared towards community college teaching, the completed product was to include information applicable to other situations as well. I finished the manuscript several months ago, finished as in, I’m DONE. Truth is, the excitement of the beginning was over, and the anxiety about putting the work out into the world had set in.
If not now, then when?
Here’s a section on effective teachers.
It’s a guesstimate, but I’ve probably had nearly 200 teachers from first grade through graduate school, and I’ve had the privilege to work with dozens and dozens more. While most were effective, some were not. However, all the ones who reached the students had some of the same qualities. They had passion for their subject, personality traits that meshed with the profession, and the willingness to put in the preparation.
This trio of passion, personality, and preparation is evident in every effective teacher I’ve observed or known. The awareness of the three P’s gelled with me as I listened and observed a Sunday school teacher with passion for her subject, an engaging personality, and hours of preparation behind her. While teaching adults who willingly attend class to learn more about the characters and messages of the Bible is different from teaching college students with outside challenges and responsibilities, there are some common characteristics.
In both instances, the students are seeking rewards of some kind. In Sunday school, people hope to gain knowledge to help them gain admission to the pearly gates. In a college classroom, students seek knowledge to help them get a good enough grade to complete the class. Completing enough classes merits a degree, and a degree paves the way to a desired career. There’s earthly pressure towards success in a college classroom and heavenly incentive towards gaining knowledge in a Sunday school class.
Examining the three components of the successful teacher trio will help you recognize them as they show up again and again throughout the book:
Personality. The teacher after whom I’m basing this trio of traits is energetic. She moves around, as she talks and listens, not in a distracting way, but in a manner that commands attention. She looks at her students and reads their faces. That way she can tell who wants to comment or who might have something to offer. She’s encouraging and positive and pleasant. “Speak up,” she says. “This is not a solo deal.” While she doesn’t have a smile plastered on her face throughout the lesson, Ms. X is far from dour or dispirited.
Passion. While we all might feel passionate about a particular interest, vocation, or pastime, in this case I’m referring to passion for the subject at hand and the desire to impart its value to others. “I just love this part,” Ms. X will often say. “Did you read it? What did you think?” When someone remarks, she always acknowledges the comment with an affirming nod or verbal expression such as, “I noticed that too! Don’t you love it?”
Preparation. I’ve been in classes where the teacher might as well have come in and said,“Wassup?” or “What do y’all want to talk about today?” That has never happened in this Sunday school class, and I doubt that it ever will. Ms. X’s hours of diligent study and thoughtful reflection are evident in each class. If she forgets something or gets the characters in a story confused with those of another, she admits it willingly and within seconds, she has located the passage she was referring to.
Community college teachers need the three P’s too. Personality counts. So is passion. But neither of them is sufficient without the necessary preparation. Students can be forgiving, but if a teacher repeatedly fails to deliver, everyone suffers.
I’m beginning to think I can do this thing.