Good Teacher

by irms

Zoo Escape Box Top

I was a teacher, once, for a year, at a high school where I learned that:

  • There are students who will succeed no matter what you do, how you teach, or how hard you work.
  • There are students who will fail no matter what you do, how you teach, or how hard you work.
  • These two facts do not let you off the hook, but they will make you feel pretty stupid when you forget them.
  • Being a good [subject] teacher, does not necessarily produce students that are good at [subject].

In my case, teaching Interactive Game Design for 11th and 12th graders, you’d think that being a good teacher would produce good game designers.  That makes sense, right?  That’s what I was being paid to do…right?  No.  That’s stupid and too simple.

Honestly, we shouldn’t be aiming for that anyway.

It’d be nice to be able to throw this template down on every student and just say, “This is how we do it.  This is what I’m teaching, this is how you will learn it, and this is where this class leaves off and another begins.  By the time you have had n classes, you will know what I know.”  But that, too, is too stupid and too simple. College can work that way, but high school can’t.  Or shouldn’t, rather.

What a teacher has to swallow is much more complicated, and honestly, much more humbling.  You see, for a handful of students, the teacher is completely irrelevant (academically).  I was irrelevant. The school could have run tapes of Dora the Explorer all day and these students would have still been good students.  They still would have had that hustle that others admire, and they would have understood Dora better than their peers come graduation day.

On the opposite end, no amount of personal attention, one-on-one tutorials, extra time, extra homework, verbal, written, or visual lessons was going to help that handful of students who refused to let it help them.  Nothing was going to change that.  For them, I was irrelevant too, just a different kind of irrelevant.  An irritating itch they could do without.

The problem is in the expectations: I teach X.  Students learn X.  Eventually they will do X for a living.

The model is wrong. What we should be doing is getting the hell out of the way.  Why do we keep telling our students what to be good at?  Do we think they don’t already want to be good at something for themselves?

The truth is, students want to be good at something, 99% of them CAN be good at something, and good teachers let them.  That’s what we should be taught to do, and that’s a lesson my students taught me.