Tuesday, 3 October 2017

What Makes A GREAT Teacher?

There is a lot of discussion these days around education and the teaching profession.  

It got me thinking about the true value of teachers, and the difference they make in so many lives.
What is it that makes a truly great teacher?

                                                                     Image: Facebook/Thought For Teachers

Professor Robert Lee Madison, Institute Founder of Western Carolina University believes that 
‘The true value of a teacher is determined not by what he knows, nor his ability to impart what he knows, but by his ability to stimulate in others a desire to know.’
This is true of all good teachers. However, I believe that what makes teachers great, is not only about what they do, it's about who they are.

Great teachers are those who have developed and mastered an ability for drawing out the strengths and talents of their students, inspiring them to want to learn.

These teachers are passionate about their calling and dedicated to enabling their students to be the best that they can be. They have a way of making each student feel valued and that somebody believes in them.


Astronaut, Sally Ride, shares this story, ‘ When I was a girl, I had a teacher who encouraged my interest in science. She challenged me to be curious, to ask questions, and to think about things for myself. She helped build my self-confidence. All of these things helped me to become a scientist and an astronaut.’

What a wonderful tribute to an inspirational teacher!

I have always believed, that great teaching is about relationship ~ if students know that their teachers are interested in them and care about them, the learning will follow.

If I were to name one truly inspirational teacher who influenced the course of my own life, I would say, without a moment’s hesitation, that I would look no further than my own father, Francis Joseph O'Hanlon, a high school Head of English Department (pictured below).

As with all great teachers, he taught by example.

Dad was kind, patient and loving. A humble academic, in possession of a fine mind and rapier-sharp wit, he instilled in me a life-long love for singing, writing, and the beauty of the English language.

A man of simple means, he shared everything he had - his time, his knowledge, and his love of learning (not to mention his humour!). As with all great teachers, he inspired his students to settle for nothing less than their best.

'Every child deserves a champion - an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.' ~ Rita Pierson

Great teachers care, and it shows. The impact and influence of their caring extend far beyond the classroom.

Dad would sit down with me before exams to help me with my revision, and I would always manage to remember the information (I attribute this to the interest and care that accompanied it)!

Each year, when the School Leaving Certificates rolled around, our house would become a veritable drop-in classroom for Dad's high school students (for whom he provided – gratis - last-minute coaching lessons).

The love and gratitude of his students were evidenced by the smiling, triumphant faces that would roll up to our door on exam results day, excitedly waving their bits of paper – proof that their extra work had, indeed, paid off.

The student guard of honour at his Irish funeral, to celebrate his 64-year life, was a very moving and fitting tribute to a truly great teacher.

He loved his work and his students, and, even though he cautioned his 5 children against entering the teaching profession, 3 of us did (and we each have a daughter who also took up the teaching mantle, one, now a high school principal, another, a Montessori/Pre-K - 6 teacher, and mine, a primary school teacher, currently in the area of Special Ed.)! 

Dedicated to his fingertips, Dad was the first one at school every morning, and the last one to leave in the afternoon!

My daughter (below) is a born teacher who entered the profession because she, in her own words, 'wants to make a difference'.

She has loved her work as a volunteer teacher in a South American orphanage, her years teaching in London schools (in mainstream and in the area of special needs, with students from Grades K-12), her work in local, mainstream primary schools, and is now on another teaching stint overseas, loving her work in the area of additional needs.

Having had the incredible privilege of working alongside my daughter at the same school for nearly 3 years, and having witnessed, firsthand, the love, time, effort, and commitment she puts into her teaching, something tells me she already is making a difference! 

Here's to my Dad, daughter, sisters, aunties and nieces, my colleagues & teacher friends - past and present, and to all teachers, everywhere ~ I salute you! 

Ours is a privileged profession ~ keep making a difference in children's lives, and remember,

'A teacher affects eternity; (s)he can never tell where his/her influence stops.' Henry Brooks Adams
Yours in Teaching,

Nuala :-)

Q: What do you consider to be traits of a great teacher?



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