Best teacher

Elise is a dear colleague. She has been teaching (only) for two years (English and ESL courses) and is one of those teachers that make me want to push for some kind of merit system of pay and/or recognition. I could go on about Elise here but suffice to say – she is an absolutely brilliant teacher in many, many ways. Most of all, she respects and believes in kids she teaches.

During a conversation this afternoon, she told me a story how a student (often labelled by others as a ‘troublemaker’, ‘tough to teach’ … you know those, right?) challenged a poorly prepared and rude practicum teacher she had recently supervised. Here is the scene and the lines (abbreviated but the gist is there):

Chaos approaching. Students getting restless, loud, annoyed, bored and totally off-task. The prac teacher snaps at ‘Frank’: “So you think YOU can teach this lesson then?”

‘Frank’ calmly looks at her and says: “I can.”

He gets Elise’s permission (still in class as the supervising teacher), then proceeds to organise his classmates and teaches them how to use the Windows Moviemaker to tell a story they were working on in their English class. He gets kids working together, helping those who struggle, offering individual help here and there… By the end of the period, he has done an amazing job and, with Frank’s guidance and mutual help, all the kids in class simply ‘get it’!

I tell the story for two reasons. First is to reinforce the message from my previous post (looks like that was a stirrer! ‘Grow a Moodle‘) that students love to teach, particularly the things they are good at. In this case, it was the use of technology.

The second reason is that vignettes like this reinforce the power and potential of education that Elise, myself and thousands of caring, thinking teachers around the world are getting louder and louder about. In this sort of education, everyone is a teacher, everyone is a learner. We lead, but we don’t limit kids in our class to what we know. Knowledge (and what constitutes it, what is ‘good’, ‘right’, ‘useful’ knowledge) is shared. As a result, power is shared. We recognise that ‘teacher’ can be a mere label for someone with a teaching college card, grades book and a salary to take home.

Yes, there are -isms aplenty out there to describe this. On the ground, this is some scary stuff for millions among us (professional) teachers yet it is strangely beautiful how it just works (here comes the plug… long live the rhizome 🙂 ).

As Elise and I chatted, we recognised some of the most influential ‘teachers’ in our lives were not professional teachers at all, not necessarily ‘schooled’ either (see Gladwell’s thoughts on how to recruit new teachers – very ‘selectively Gladwell’ but a fun read with some handy insights). What did they have in common – genuine care for us, low assumptions and high expectations.

Next time you are ‘stuck’ in class – consider asking for help. Who will you ask for help depends on who you believe in. And as a teacher of many years I know only too well what a brilliant set of BS detectors every single teenager in my class carries with them all the time.

PS You (and others of course) can follow Elise on Twitter as meelup (@meelup). She is new to it too so give her a chance 🙂

If you’d like to contact her, please leave a comment below and I’ll pass on her details to you in private (just want to be considerate here). Thanks.

3 comments

  1. lisa.kendell

    I’m a teacher of English at the University. I like teaching and my students. To be a good teacher I need constant working at myself,new and interesting materials for my lessons.am using flashcardsto make the learning process more interesting. I’d like to get the latest information on teaching techniques and methodology of English of the leading teachers of the world.Thanks beforehand!

  2. david benedetto

    Outstanding!

    BUT, a caveat is needed. One needs to be able to distinguish between a student who is “a trouble maker” and one who is bored through a lack of challenge.

    I too have had numerous situations where the teacher became the student and the student became the teacher.

    I have learned that just because I am “the teacher” does not mean that I am always right.

    I have also learned to “listen” to my students. In fact, many of the great ideas I incorporate into my classes came from students.

    I always give those students the published credit which, I hope, increases their confidence, self-esteem and their desire to learn.

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