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On Becoming A Good Teacher

the Emergence Explorer

Questions for the Week of August 6, 2007

Emergence Character Type Babies 9-AI-2

This Week's Questions

  • Must good teachers have been good students?
  • Can a poor student ever become a good teacher?
  • Would a teacher who rose above being a C student make a more compassionate teacher overall?

Do you know?

[Question 1] Must good teachers have been good students?
[Answer] Not necessarily. In fact, many people have told me that I am a good teacher and yet, at best, before college, I was only a B student. At worst, I failed whole subjects. This said, at some point good teachers must have felt inspired to become a teacher. Why? Because good teachers do not become teachers against their will. Neither do they do it for the money or time off, albeit salary and time off frequently can motivate even good teachers in some ways.

The real question to ask here then is, what motivates someone to become a good teacher? The answer? It's not easy to put into words. Which is probably why, over the years, I've heard many good teachers tell me they do it for the salary or for the time off.

My thoughts? Having a reference experience for what makes one a good teacher is probably what really underlies most of a good teacher's desire to be a teacher. For instance, in my case, I remember several moments wherein I felt very valued and honored by a teacher. Sometimes for coming up with a novel answer. Sometimes for being personally honest.

No surprise then that as a teacher, I highly value these two qualities in a student. And give this honor and recognition back to my students in spades.

I also remember being amazed by the way several teachers got my interest. This too is something I value highly and as a teacher, try to give.

To answer the question though, just about anyone can become a good teacher. And there are positives and negatives about having been a good student.

[Question 2] Can a poor student ever become a good teacher?
Yes. Absolutely. In fact, I would say for most of my life I fell into the poor student category. Yet I am frequently told I am a good teacher.

Know this has prompted me at times to question whether being a poor student actually biases the odds in the direction of becoming a good teacher. My opinion? I think it does, given that something along the way inspires you to become a teacher.

Why qualify this with the need for having been inspired? Because I've seen poor students try to be teachers and fail. Some because they never developed basic self discipline skills. Some because they never healed their shame in and around having been a poor student. And some because they over identify with the poor students and favor them over the rest.

This said, just as pain frequently motivates us to change in general, the pain of being a poor student can literally propel one toward success as a teacher, given something or someone inspires you.

[Question 3] Can a quick student ever become a poor teacher?
Is it possible for a quick student ever become a poor teacher? Yes, it is. In fact, it's even likely if being quick to learn prevents one from learning how to study. In a way then, teachers who were once quick students may expect too much from their students. They may also fail to realize it's legitimate to need more time.

Worse yet, because of this, the teacher may lack the personal skills to inspire a student to stay with it. Thus, the slower students may give up on learning entirely.

What would help these kinds of teachers to solve this lack in themselves? Basically, they would need to a few acquire life experiences wherein they cannot learn quickly. And suffer through them. For instance, often quick students are mind first people. Which would mean they could get this skill in any situation wherein they need to learn a body first skill. Ballroom dance. Golf. A martial art and so on.

[Question 4] Can a teacher who was always an A student understand a student who has never gotten better than a C?
In my experience, yes. But it may take more work for this type of teacher to personally understand. Why? Because the roots of compassion lie in having common experiences of suffering. Not just factually similar experiences but rather, experientially similar experiences.

Thus, if a teacher has done poorly at any childhood task, then this mediocre effort can be the teacher's source of knowledge. More so if the teacher processes this situation later in life.

For instance, say this teacher excelled at all academics but repeatedly came in last in the one hundred yard dash. Say this happened not just once or twice but for the entire time this teacher was in high school. Add to this story that this teacher's two older brothers had been stars on the track team all through school. Along with his father and uncle. Can you imagine?

The point is, if the teacher reaches into his past and relives the pain of this failure, then he has more than enough life experience to create a thread of similarity between himself and the student. Even if the failure is in a completely different life area.

What if the teacher has no such failure? Then perhaps, he could spend some time learning from with this boy or girl what it's like. To be honest though, I've never met a teacher who did not have the necessary failure. Albeit, it may be buried in the teacher distant past.

Where might it be? Perhaps in the loss of a first girlfriend's live. Or perhaps in the not getting picked team captain. Or in a parents disappointment.

[Question 5] Would a teacher who rose above being a C student make a more compassionate teacher overall? Even to A students?
This would depend on how this teacher rose above being a C student. Did she rise up to avoid punishment and severe chastisements? Then probably not. But if she was helped to find herself through the efforts of someone genuinely kind and patient? Then yes. In fact, in this case, feeling compassion would be highly probable.

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