“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William A. Ward
Every student who is training to be a teacher is asked to write about your favorite teacher. This rather creative assignment is often followed by a similar one that asks you to write about your worst teacher. It is easy to understand why they are asked to do this. By thinking about the characteristics of both, a budding teacher can reflect on all of those traits that made this person a great or weak teacher. But when 30 students are staring and they need to be taught direct objects before they take the final next week, it is impossible to remember what that best teacher ever taught.
Dr. Templeton was my English teacher during my junior year of high school. He was not an attractive man. Quite unassuming, he was bald with large glasses and a voice that was thick and slow. He was an inspiring storyteller in the classroom, and he was the first teacher who ever showed me what he was thinking and how I should be thinking much more than I already did.
The literature he brought into his high school classroom was not allowed, but he snuck and did it anyway. We read Warrior Woman by Amy Chan, Song of Solomon by Toni Morison, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. And then one day he held up Shoeless Joe Jackson. He explained that this was the book he was supposed to teach, and he asked rather politely if anyone wanted to read it. Wanted to read it? Shit, what teenager ever wants to read a book and who is crazy enough to even ask? He was. He wanted us to look at the world around us. He wanted us to have student agency, student responsibility, and student minds. I am sure I didn’t understand this then, but as a teacher I fully recognize it now.
Honestly, I don’t think he ever really liked me. He actually really liked my friend Joy. She was beautiful and sexy and older men always had a thing for her. I am not sure if that’s what he saw in her, or maybe he saw beneath her surface and understood how vastly intelligent she really was. Joy was so much smarter and quieter than I was in his classroom. I was boisterous and loud because I finally found a teacher whom I admired and respected.
I adored his secret stories about the principal reprimanding him because he caught him smoking with the lunch ladies in the cafeteria.
Strangely enough he was the reason I went to college. He wasn’t actually speaking to me. He was speaking to Joy because she was talking about going to the local community college. I was toying with the idea, also.
“That would be a waste of your talents,” he said in his deep voice. “You would be quite a big fish in a little pond.” For some reason, I took these words to heart. Joy ended up at the community college, and she did really well too. I, on the other hand, went to college for writing. And that ladies and gentlemen, has made all the difference.
I later had Dr. Templeton as a professor when I attended graduate school to become a teacher. Again, his influence was infinitesimal. He was the professor that said you must know your students, and I smile now because he was so wrong. I wasn’t sure then, but after twenty years of teaching, I certainly know now. There is a piece of truth in the bit about knowing your students, but the bigger picture, the harder part, is allowing your students to know about you too.
This is a beautiful post. I think that the lesson in it, about inspiring people to think for themselves, to cultivate hunger, to understand that hunger is the basis of agency, and until we learn to seize the wheel, we will drift aimlessly, no matter the endeavour. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. 💕😊