What Makes A Good Teacher

Dan and I were just now sitting on the porch off the teacher’s room together, discussing our high school science teachers for some reason.  We both had horrible chemistry teachers.

“My physics teacher wasn’t too bad,” I said. “I actually got kind of interested in physics. He was engaging, and managed to show us what was interesting about it.”

“Mine was horrible. I barely passed.”

“Oh, I barely passed, too. God I was lazy. But I got interested in it, anyway, unlike any other science or math class I ever took. You know, thinking back, and this is why I decided pretty early I didn’t want to be an English teacher, ha-ha-ha, the best teachers I ever had in math and science, were the ones who had struggled with it themselves at some point.”

“Cause they got it.”

“Yeah. They GOT it. And they could explain, you know, ‘I know exactly why you’re confused. You think this. And I know why you think this. But it’s actually that. And this is why. As opposed to the ones who were teaching math ’cause they’d always been really good at math, you know? Who were like, ‘Um, I put the formula on the board. So just… use it.'”

“Ha ha ha. Like it’s that easy.”

“Right. And that’s why I never wanted to be an English teacher. ‘Cause English always came really easy to me. I always just got it.”

“Interesting. I’ll have to think that over, Sarah. Just cause you’re good at something doesn’t mean you can teach it.”

Well, duh.

I’m struggling with this right now, and have been for the past year or so, in particular with teaching writing.

I’ve been writing five paragraph essays since I was in eighth grade, and I can do them in my sleep. And side note- I know there’s a lot of controversy about five paragraph essays, and, okay. I agree they kind of suck. They’re boring to write, they’re boring to read. But there is some value in them- a well written 5 paragraph essay shows that you can form an argument and organize ideas. I totally get why it became a standard, and I don’t necessarily think it should be replaced. Make creative writing another class.

The Turkish school system in among the top in the world for mathematics, and I’m astonished by my students’ mathematical fluency. But students aren’t taught how to write in school, and the concept of an introduction, three body paragraphs, each with a main idea and supports that aren’t generalizations or strings of opinions and all of which directly tie into the main idea, and a conclusion which includes no new information, which directly answers all parts of a specific question, is a completely foreign concept. It’s a new way of thinking and ordering their ideas. They can’t do it in Turkish.

I struggle to explain it.

Today, as I was trying not to tear out my hair in a particularly strong class that after two days still can’t put a main idea sentence into a paragraph, I tried to remember how I learned how to write. Certain things I remember very well- the moldy smell of the classroom, my teacher’s bad eighties perm- but what my teacher said or did or put up on the board I have absolutely no idea. What practice exercises we did, how or why it clicked- all gone. Buried deep in my brain somewhere in a file cabinet marked “Non-essential Information.”

In two days we’ll move on again, and I’ll again feel, faintly, like I’ve failed.




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