What goes into being a great teacher? Of course, one size does not fit all. There is more than one way to be a great teacher. This post is the first in a series in which I will reflect on what makes for a great teacher.
Charles Halton notes a trait of people who excel at generating new ideas: they have a deep knowledge of the subject under consideration, and a knowledge of as many other unrelated subjects as possible. Angela Roskop Erisman is posting on the importance of the craft of writing. These things make for a great scholar. What goes into being a great teacher?
The high school I attended as a youth was known as “a school without walls.” To this day I find walls confining: the school was a good fit for me. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I asked to learn Hebrew and Greek. My advisor arranged it. My Greek teacher was John Linton, then a grad student in the Dept. of Hebrew and Semitic Studies at the UW-Madison.
We read the gospel of John by an inductive method. I sort of remember the textbook; it had a light blue cover. I would bicycle to John and Nancy’s apartment in Eagle Heights. Why was John a great teacher?
First of all, I had him to myself whenever I went over to his place. The undivided attention he gave me, even if it was for no more than an hour a week, nurtured me intellectually. One-on-one teaching and learning: there is no substitute for it. Think of the times you had a teacher to yourself. You are likely to remember them well, and consider the conversations that took place of great importance. A great teacher will find time to go one-on-one with his or her students on a periodic basis.
John and Nancy also taught me by modeling what a happy couple looks like, and responding to my adolescent concerns. I didn’t happen to have parents in a happy marriage, and I was hardly on speaking terms with them. With John and Nancy it was different. What psychoanalysts term “transference” played a part in my learning in their home, and in fact was its most basic context.
The phenomenon of transference is not something to sneeze at. A good teacher will look for ways for it to be a positive factor in the learning experience.
John and Nancy Linton are on the faculty of the Oregon Extension, a program that serves a dozen different Christian liberal arts colleges in the US. John seems to suffer from perennial writer’s cramp. He has yet to write the book or two he has in his bones. I hope that will change.
For a delightful portrayal of John Linton the teacher by Michael Bauman, go here.