The Heart of a Teacher
Someone once sarcastically said that the perfect school was the one where students haven’t yet arrived. I don’t believe it. I think the perfect school is the one where all of the children are present—with all of their issues, drama, attitudes, insights, passion and energy. So, as we begin this new school year I think we move closer to perfection as the students return! Now, add caring teachers, dedicated support professionals and inspired leaders and you have a place where astounding things are accomplished.
Many years ago, my wife and I attended a play at a local community theater in which one of my language arts students, Fantasia Darling, was playing the lead role in The Story of Helen Keller. Fantasia performed spectacularly and we were so proud of her. During the play, I was moved by the patience of Helen’s teacher—Anne Sullivan. Helen Keller was unruly, disobedient and an extremely reluctant learner. Through gentleness, patience and perseverance, Anne provided an environment that allowed Helen to trust her teacher enough to begin learning. Ultimately, Helen exceeded everyone’s expectations! Consider Helen Keller’s words, “The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Sullivan, came to me.”
What qualities did Anne Sullivan possess that permitted her to succeed with even the most difficult of students? Let me suggest five important traits that characterize Anne Sullivan--as well as every extraordinary teacher:
- Great teachers are patient. No matter how many mistakes the student makes or how many times one needs to explain, great teachers don’t become impatient. I’ve learned the remarkable thing about patience is that it benefits the one practicing it as much as the recipient of it.
- Great teachers are kind and show respect. The most memorable and influential teachers recognize the value and worth of each student. They demonstrate empathy in trying to understand their students’ perspective and treat each student respectfully.
- Great teachers are positive and smile. These teachers look for the best in others and their attitudes reflect that. They also smile! One teacher wrote, “A smile is an expression of love. A teacher touches a student’s heart through the magnetic touch of a smile.”
- Great teachers engage their students. Exceptional teachers stimulate creativity. They authentically challenge their students to reach their potential. Obtaining knowledge and understanding is not a passive process. Rather, it requires students to be active learners.
- Great teachers create a warm environment. Against the backdrop of a supportive environment, outstanding teachers encourage risk taking and accept developmental errors. They understand that learning is a process and that all students require support.
I love the poem, “The Heart of a Teacher.” The first two stanzas introduce a teacher with heart:
Heart of A Teacher
by Paula J. Fox
The child arrives like a mystery box
with puzzle pieces inside
some of the pieces are broken or missing
and others just seem to hide.
But the HEART of a teacher can sort them out
and help the child to see
the potential for greatness he has within
a picture of what he can be.
As we begin this new school year, I express sincere appreciation to every teacher, support professional and administrator for the quality of your heart and the influence you have on young people.