Excellent Teachers Engage, Inspire, and Empower

Frank B. Withrow - The Dawn Patrol

I have hired and supervised a number of teachers in my career. I always ask myself, Are the people I am interviewing so interesting that I would like to spend an evening with them over dinner? Can they relate to their students and not just the subject matter?

One of the most remarkable people I hired as a teacher for multiply disabled students was Dorothy. She had just lost her husband. She was an excellent pianist and could have earned a living as a musician. She had been in love and engaged to marry a European from Holland before World War II broke out. She had lost all contact with him during the war. He was a member of the underground. He wired her as soon as he was able to after the war was over and indicated that he still wanted to marry her if she had not married. She said yes, and he came to the USA as fast as he could. He ended up as an executive in Shell Oil Company, and they lived around the world, often dining with heads of state and corporate leaders. They had no children.

Cropped picture of Sharon Christa McAuliffe (NASA, 09.26.1985) with added text: I touch the future. I teach

She met my first criteria of being someone that I found fascinating as a dinner partner. Her educational background was exemplary, coming from Smith College with all A’s.

I developed a program for some of the most difficult children in our institution. Some of them got to us from state courts with a legal record at age five or six for a wide range of problems. Today we might classify them as children with autism.

When I got Dorothy’s fist lesson plan, I admit I had some misgivings. She was going to teach these boys to sing something like “Buzz Buzz I am a Happy Little Bee.” These were kids that families and neighbors had had to call the police to control.

I took a deep breath and said nothing.

In a week or so these little hellions were singing “Buzz Buzz I am a happy little bee.”

How did this teacher reach in and get to these very difficult children? I believe she had what all excellent teachers have: an ability to empathize with their students, seek out their needs, and find the button that turns them on. I learned that Dorothy was an excellent teacher and that she had an uncanny ability to find just the right thing to reach very difficult learners. Some of my fellow supervisors said what a shame to waste such an excellent teacher on “those kids.” I felt just the opposite. Her excellence enabled her to reach these difficult kids when no one else had done so.

The kernel of excellent teaching is the passion and knowledge to transfer to the learner your excitement — not just your skills and knowledge. Excellent teachers engage, inspire, and empower the learners under their charge.

To learn is my passion; to teach is my life. To give the gift of knowledge is the greatest gift of all. When the spark of knowledge is ignited in a young mind, the world grows better. No other work is more rewarding or important.

As Christa McAuliffe said, “I touch the future. I teach.”

Teachers are the foundation of great societies.

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