John Barth wrote that, "a good teacher will teach well regardless of the theory he suffers from." In my many years of teaching, I have learned that good teaching has nothing to do with getting students to do certain things. Rather, good teaching involves helping a student to make a conscious change in their way of thinking. If making that change is true for students, then it is certainly true for teachers as well. Even the best teachers and students may be gifted in some areas, yet blind to other areas. In spite of the best efforts and intentions, learning can be limited without a continued awareness of the process of teaching and learning. Without this constant awareness, the very process that the student depends on is invisible. Without contemplation, neither change nor improvement is possible. A good teacher's greatest concern is to insure that the act of teaching never interferes with the act of learning.
It is necessary to make good efforts to know students. Some students excel in verbal or visual learning environments while others excel in aural or even kinesthetic environments. Some students may need very detailed explanations of material while others may best learn through demonstration. Many students are a complex mixture and may change from one learning style to another depending on the circumstances. Regardless of learning styles, students need repetition. This needed repetition provides an opportunity for a teacher to vary the presentation of material so as to best include all students in the learning process. Further, it is a teacher's responsibility to help a student discover any false assumptions they may have about the learning process. It is also necessary for a teacher to help a student gradually see the contrast between their own perceived strengths and weaknesses and their true attributes. Students need to be met where they are, and not where they “ought” to be. Regardless of a syllabus or curriculum, a teacher must first learn a student's skill set in order to provide a relevant introduction to the material. For better or worse, this introduction will serve as the foundation for what follows. Without first understanding a student's skill set, leading them to frontiers is not possible.
Although students must learn to develop independence, teachers often attempt to develop that independence in the same manner as a swimmer standing on a distant shore, asking their students to follow. This misguided act relieves the teacher of his main responsibility: teaching. In the classroom, I am less interested in a student giving the right answer. Rather, I want students to be able to show the process that led to the answer. By understanding the process, a student is then truly able to expand their knowledge.
While a teacher's own experiences may be very relevant to students, it is important to remember that each student brings a unique collection of experiences and discoveries as well. While a teacher's job is to help a student think, this must never be confused with telling students what to think. When a change in learning is fundamental, the student's sense of self is potentially more vulnerable. When a student becomes aware of the changes taking place within them, trust is developed between them and the teacher. This trust is sacred. Even the slightest innocent remark has the potential for extinguishing their passions or lowering their self-esteem. A good teacher must help a student to come to their own conclusions while protecting their passions.
A good teacher will avoid self-fulfilling prophesies. If a student is told that material is difficult, this has a negative impact on perception of the work. If the students, as a whole, are having difficulties, then it stands to reason that the teacher is at fault. It is the teacher's job to break information down to small components, making it easily digestible for the students. Over the course of time, a student will learn to apply this same technique independently. No doubt, material will be difficult at times, but it is the responsibility of the teacher to equip the students with methods which enable success regardless.
At all times a student must know what it is they are doing, and why they are doing it. Further, they must know how to best go about doing it and how to evaluate their progress. Lastly, they must know what to change if they do not first find success. A teacher must be able to define where students are, where they need to go, and have a plan as to how the student will get there. A teacher must be clear and exact in helping a student to understand assignments and the purposes for those assignments. Expanding a student's awareness: that is teaching. A student's self-awareness is an initial application of that teaching.
If good teaching involves trust among students, then it is necessary for a teacher to be passionate about his work. Sincerity is thinly veiled. A student is aware when a teacher really loves their work and their students. This sincerity and passion is necessary in order to best delicately work with a student's vulnerability. All students will be vulnerable from time to time: especially when fundamental changes occur in their thought process. Further, good teachers must love their students. With trust, students bring openness, honesty and enthusiasm to the learning process; they show their own struggles, inabilities, and fears. Most important of all, they show their passion and love if they see those same qualities in their teacher.