Saturday, April 7, 2007

What Makes a Good Teacher?

There was an article in the New York Times this week about a substitute teacher in Great Neck, New York. Arnold Blume is 81 years old and serves as a substitute teacher for 12 and 13 year olds. And he is a good one. As the article put it: “Mr. Bloom is no beleaguered sub from Central Casting. He has never had to call security. He does not even have to write his name on the blackboard. Everyone knows Mr. Blume.” As I read about Mr. Blume it made me think about great teachers in my own life. I asked myself: Who are the best teachers I have ever had? And what makes someone a good teacher?

Teachers surely must be knowledgeable in their field and academically qualified. Yet it is the intangible qualities of a good teacher that we remember. To make history real for his students, Mr. Blume begins many of his classes with the words “Let me tell you a story.” In one class, he then described what it was like to see firsthand a sign that read: “No Jews, No Negroes, No Dogs allowed.” One 13 year old reported: “A lot of kids don’t know how life used to be harder. He tells you about how it wasn’t always like this. Because he lived through it.”

What sets Mr. Blume in Great Neck apart from other teachers is his passion. A great teacher does not simply convey material. She puts herself into her teaching. And the passion that a teacher demonstrates is contagious for his or her students. We have all probably had one teacher who swept us in with his excitement. A teacher in a subject area that we would normally think was deathly boring, but who inspired us. For me, that was Mrs. Noland, my 12th Grade English teacher. She had a reputation for being tough, and she was. But Mrs. Noland cared so much about Joseph’s Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness,” that you could not help but get sucked in. The greatest teachers inspire us.

Along with a passion for the material, good teachers convey another important trait: caring for their students. In 5th Grade, I got it in my mind to run for class president. I did not think I could win because the other boy in the race was more popular. One day after school, I spoke to my teacher and she gave me some advice: Why not run for vice-president since no-one else is running and you will win for sure! What I remember today is not so much the power of her wisdom, but that she cared and reached out to me.

It is not enough for a teacher just to know his or her material. A great teacher demonstrates passion to his students which is contagious. And a truly great teacher cares as much or more about the welfare of her learners than the equation on the board or the assignment in the textbook.

The word Rabbi means teacher. At the Temple, I do not always succeed in teaching with knowledge, passion and caring. But a few weeks ago a freshman in college came by to say hello when he was in town. Then a sixth grader came to my office to interview me for a school project. They knew that my door was open to them, and that made me feel that that I succeeded in my job as Rabbi, a teacher of Judaism.

To read the New York Times article about Arnold Blume: CLICK HERE


Terry Will said...

Great Blog!!! I admire anyone has the ability and heart that it takes to teach no matter what the subject may be. I look back on all of the Mr. Blume's of my life and realize I should have paid closer attention.

I appreciate all your great comments and articles. Keep them coming.

Jack's Shack said...

A good teacher is invaluable.