A Brief Observation About the Best Teachers

The most effective teachers have a manner of engaging students that would make their class content seem incidental.

In recent posts, I have promoted an understanding of teaching that would transcend a teacher’s content area.  I have advocated for an integrated model for instruction that would co-opt forces and entities across the school and the wider community.  I would, however, be careful not to diminish the importance of class content and the meaningful delivery of instruction.  Not only do I emphasize the importance of knowledge and the necessity to assess students’ growth in a variety of ways, but I would also assert that the particular skills, topics, and capacities we teach carry such relevance that they deserve the reinforcement that a network of social forces can so effectively provide.

All of that said, let me add an intriguing irony that I have held dear since I was in grade school.  

The most effective teachers–those who best convey their material and enable students to retain and apply it–have a manner of engaging students that would make their class content seem incidental.

When we remember our favorite teachers, we certainly remember the things they taught us in their subjects.  In fact, we have a web of associations in our minds that enable all of the facts and concepts, the experiences and applications, to interrelate and to cohere.

But all of this has coalesced not because of these teachers’ techniques, not because of any statistical analysis they did of our scores on quizzes and tests, and certainly not because they carried out to the letter a contrived and prescribed program of instruction.

We remember our most cherished teachers because of their influence on the way we think, the way we experience, and the way we trust those who seek to help us learn and grow.

True teachers do not engage in transactions; they facilitate transformations.

Today, I remember with deepest gratitude those teachers who have informed my growth as a human being and as a professional. 

Photo credit: RODNAE Productions/Pexels

I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers March 2023 Slice of Life Challenge.

13 thoughts on “A Brief Observation About the Best Teachers

  1. I love that phrase: facilitate transformations. No easy task, but when it happens, it is an amazing thing to witness. I tell my students, on the rare occasions when they thank me for having some role in their subsequent success (I teach middle school, so these returning adults are few and far between) that all I did was give them time and space to find their voice. I would love to believe that somehow, sometimes, in that time and space, I have helped to facilitate a transformation or two.

  2. To this day, there are two teachers I’ve had in my life who stand out in my memory. My college Physics professor (whom I had classes with during 7 of 8 semesters), and my high school senior year English teacher, and for completely different reasons.

    My Physics professor was an absolutely awesome instructor and I have fond memories of his teaching style (something I’ve attempted to emulate the few times I had an opportunity to teach).

    As for my English teacher, I have no memories of his classroom, but immediately after our high school graduation rehearsal, he was the only teacher who stood up (in public) with the students in complaining about a particular matter. [There was an issue which had already been discussed at a staff meeting. The principal had declared the matter settled – over, apparently, the mass objection of many of the teachers – and no longer to be discussed.]

      1. After writing my comment here, I felt a pang of nostalgia and wanted to tell a bit more about my Physics professor. So – I wrote about it. 😀 I invite you (and, indeed, anyone else who might be curious) to take a look:


        [While this might? count as shameless self-promotion (since I never mind more eyes on what I’ve written), it also is an attempt to share some details about what an amazing instructor he was, and *how* he did it.]

  3. Yes, amen! They don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care….and how we can connect their learning, span it across disciplines, and hone in on the individualization of passion and interest in the process. I love the spirit of thinking here – you know, actually teaching STUDENTS, and not teaching school. Once again, your blog ignites the sparks of deep thinking.

  4. I’ve often told students my job is one of service and teaching them how to learn so they’ll be lifelong learners. My favorite teacher, Nydia May Jenkins, simply refused to allow students to avoid learning. Trying again was at the center of her practice. She did indeed foster a transformation in my life.

  5. We remember our most cherished teachers because of their influence on the way we think, … I totally relate with you, it’s not about the strategies but how impactful that teacher was in grooming us as a learner.
    Enjoyed your piece.

  6. “We remember our most cherished teachers because of their influence on the way we think, the way we experience, and the way we trust those who seek to help us learn and grow.”
    In a nutshell, Paul, there it is. There are a lot of ingredients in the stew of education, but it is how you add them, stir them, simmer them, that makes it “mwa!” And learning to think about what you are doing is the key step to that recipe! Wonderful series of blog posts!

  7. Thank you, Paul. This is a cogent reminder to teach children not subjects. I love your description pointing out that the assimilation of content becomes somewhat incidental when learners are secure and confident in themselves. This is huge! Your words reveal that subtle but profound reality. This is not a glimmer – this is the cruz of it all. Bravo!

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