What Makes A Good Teacher?

Previously I asked the question, “What are they teaching you?”. My goal was getting us to think about who—or what—our teachers are and to pay close attention to what we are learning from them. I briefly touched on what might make a good teacher. Today I’d like to delve deeper into that topic, this time writing specifically about human teachers.

There is one caveat before I proceed. When I talk about a teacher being “good” or “bad”, I’m not only referring to the quality of a teacher but also their morality. Can we know if a teacher is good or bad in either of these two categories? How can we spot the difference between a good or bad quality teacher and a good or bad moral teacher?

I originally started this article in a very rigid direction—trying to categorize all the different kinds of good and bad teachers we might find—but I kept getting stuck, not because of writer’s block, but trying to fit all the different kinds of teachers inside my own well-intentioned, succinctly defined but limited boxes.

To show you what I mean, I’ve moved the following sentence further down the page than it used to be. I’m quoting myself here although I’m quite sure these words have previously been uttered by others.

“A good teacher promotes truth and a bad teacher promotes lies.”

My sweet wife helped me see that my use of the word “lies” was perhaps too harsh. In light of her good caution, I’ll suggest a few characteristics of good and bad teachers in lieu of rigid categories. But first I am going to share a bit more of the previous direction I was headed, for your presumed enjoyment—and a sense of fulfillment for me:

A teacher who promotes truth is being intentional about what he teaches, regardless of what is produced. This kind of teacher might produce a lie unintentionally. Technically this puts him in my category of a “bad quality” teacher. However, his “good quality” status can easily be redeemed if he corrects his mistake, whether self-corrected or freely receiving outside correction.

I’m guessing that the majority of people who read this article would congratulate my wife on the sage advice she gave me! For everyone else, I’ve saved off the rest of the previous direction this article was going in case anyone wants to take me out for a drink to try and get me to share those thoughts. But I digress…

What comes to mind when you think of a good teacher? Do you think of personal attributes like kindness, patience, discipline, humility and fairness?

What comes to mind when you think of a bad teacher? Do you think of personal attributes like harshness, impatience, carelessness, arrogance and injustice?

Perhaps you judge a teacher’s quality based on their teaching style, their knowledge of the subject matter and how well they communicate that subject matter. Or maybe your ultimate standard for testing the quality and/or morality of a teacher is simply that they are telling you the truth no matter their choice of delivery.

My goal here isn’t to point fingers at specific teachers to label them “good”, “bad” or other. When it comes to labels, I’m a minimalist. I don’t even have any specific person in mind as I am writing this. My main goal is to get us to take a close look at the people we are learning from.

A teacher should be someone we can trust to always tell us the truth!

Any teacher who knowingly passes off lies as truth is at least a bad quality teacher and might also be highly immoral—a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing. But why would anybody intentionally substitute truth with lies? Here are a few possible reasons:

A bad teacher…

  • doesn’t care about truth
  • doesn’t care about students
  • is deceptive by intent
  • is only in it to make a buck
  • is afraid of losing grant money
  • is afraid of losing tenure

I don’t recommend you confront a teacher to accuse him of being “bad”, but I do feel safe in recommending you hold a teacher accountable when it comes to truth and facts. This may be as much to their benefit as it is to yours! If you know that a teacher has made a mistake by missing the truth, go to him privately and talk about it. This isn’t about publicly shaming him. Be kind in your approach—remembering to S.M.I.L.E.

Teachers must be held to a higher standard than students.

James—the brother of Jesus—said this about teachers: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” – James 3:1 (ESV) He goes on to talk about the human tongue and warns how this one small part of the body is impossible to tame. We might use our tongue to bless in one moment but to curse in the next!

For the remainder of this article, I feel safe in throwing caution to the wind with my use of the word “lies”.

Given my rough sketch of what might define a teacher as “good” or “bad”, here is one more thing to think about. Consider a teacher who always tells the truth and has excellent teaching techniques but is harsh, impatient, arrogant and rude. Alternatively, consider a teacher who always tells lies and has poor teaching techniques but is kind, patient, humble and fun to be around. Which would you prefer as a teacher?

But those are extremes. Let’s consider a more realistic scenario. You have one teacher that is your favorite for some reason who always teaches lies. You have another teacher that is your least favorite for some reason who always teaches the truth. Whom do you prefer as your teacher now?

And while we’re on the subject, is it more important to remember a person as a good teacher, or simply to remember his good teachings?

3 thoughts on “What Makes A Good Teacher?

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