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Challenge: Extraordinary Teachers

4 Characteristics of Winning Teachers

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It’s hard to believe that some – like my niece in the Midwest – are preparing to go back to school. As we begin to shift our focus toward a new school year, I am reminded of what often makes this transition so rewarding – the teachers.

Winning teaching is not the scene “Bueller…Bueller…,” as funny as it was in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s not the “Wah wah wah” heard from the Peanut’s classroom, though sometimes admittedly bad teaching can sound that way. Instead, my experience is that winning teaching comes from teachers who often share these four characteristics:

1. They teach because they care. When I think about the teachers who most impacted me, a common thread is that they cared. They cared enough to invest in me, share who they were and relate to me, and their passion in turn inspired me. It didn’t matter how accomplished the teacher was or the popularity of their subject matter – a teacher who cared could even get me interested in the dry recitation of history.

2. They share what makes them unique – or even quirky. I still remember a middle school head who was somehow enamored with wombats. She had the sign “Wombat Crossing” outside of her door. Even on a student’s worst day, coming to her office would bring a smile. Teachers who elicit a smile when students think of them, who intrigue them in some way, are making school a more interesting and inviting place.

3. They are good observers. When I was little, I never imagined doing what I do now. I can pinpoint a time when a youth minister noticed a gift for ministry in me and affirmed it. It was a skill I didn’t realize I had, and one that I continue to use to this day. Teachers not only have a breath of knowledge to pass along to their students, but they have life wisdom too. When they take the time to observe their students, they can become effective “archeologists” in affirming and encouraging their future trajectories.

4. They empower their students. Teachers often do a lot of talking; after all, their primary duty is to teach. But winning teachers go a step further and empower students to use their own voice or talents. I remember an upper school English teacher naming me as the editor for our school’s literary and arts magazine. I had not asked for the role nor pegged myself as the literary type. Fast forward years later, and writing is like the air I breathe. I marvel at her ability to perceive my readiness and give me a forum.

The ability to partner with winning teachers is nothing short of a gift for students – or their parents. As a parent, one of my greatest goals is to help my children discover and nurture their God-given abilities. Parental effort combined with teaching can solidify an arc of meaning and accomplishment for children that would otherwise be impossible…Ferris excluded, of course.

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