Written by David Branson
Originally published in 2012 with permission from Conn-Selmer Keynotes Magazine
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates.
‘The great teacher inspires.’ – William Arthur Ward
‘The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.’ – Mark Van Doren
To be a great teacher is a gift that continues to be received by students for a life time.
A few months ago, Alan Harvey, a former music teacher of mine suddenly passed away. He was still teaching students in his mid-sixties. He gave students the gift of music, inspiration, and many life lessons for more than 40 years through his teaching.
What is it that makes a truly great teacher? How can all of us that aspire to be great teachers reach this goal?
Teaching is truly an art form; it takes much more than knowledge of subject matter, and understanding of child development. To be a great teacher means you have to make a difference in a student’s life. You need to challenge, encourage, scold at times, and inspire a student to reach for distant goals and move beyond their current capabilities and skills.
My grandfather offered great advice about raising children and I believe this advice applies to teaching as well. He recommended that parents watch their children, study them, and look to see what interests and skills they possess. Then nurture those interests and skills, and guide them to accomplish their goals by building upon the potential you see inside of them.
A great teacher observes each student, looks for their unique skills and interests, and then guides each student to develop those abilities. Many of the students in music classes will never go on to have a career in music, yet what they learn from us are vital life lessons.
We as teachers need to demonstrate compassion, understanding, humanity, rigor, and high standards. We must expect for every child to work at their highest possible level. It is a form of prejudice to accept less than a child’s best effort. Accept the students’ current level of skill and then develop their skills further. One of the greatest lessons we can teach our students is to be a productive team player each and every day.
Students need to know that you care for them, that you respect each of them as people, and love them enough to not accept less than their best efforts. Think carefully about the messages you give to your students by how you conduct yourself in your work.
Students will remember much more of what you demonstrated by your behavior, and how you spoke to them than your actual words. Integrity, fairness, accountability, a sense of humor, and compassion are critical to good teaching.
My former music teacher, friend and colleague, gave me many of the above lessons. He pushed me to succeed, challenged my thinking, reached out his hand, and gave me a model for successful teaching. I will miss him greatly, but his teaching will live on in me and in many other former and current students.
All of us in education should accept the challenge to become a “great” teacher. We may not all make it to that level but students will benefit when we strive to be a “great” teacher.