September 1, 2015
Online Journal - On Becoming a Great Teacher
Dennis Marshall, General Vice-President/Director of Education, Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada, Oshawa, ON

Parents want to have great teachers for their children, but great teachers are not born, they are made.  Great teachers consistently help students discover and realize their God-given potential; they are engaged in a “high and noble work.”i    But the making of great teachers is not accomplished without great investment of time and resources.  In the following paragraphs, I’ll highlight the work of a great teacher, and discuss some core characteristics which great teachers possess.
 
Erin Gruwell had set her mind on becoming a lawyer, but this changed when she witnessed the Los Angeles riot which was instigated by the police beating of Rodney King.  On the news, she saw children throwing Molotov cocktails and carrying television sets out of broken store windows, and felt compelled to trade the courtroom for the classroom.ii  She wanted to do something meaningful to help transform the lives of disadvantaged young people, and saw education as the medium to bring about the desired change.

Erin’s work with her students became legendary.  She helped her students write a book, graduate from high school, and attend college.  She travelled the world with her students, met political leaders in Washington, D.C., and attracted philanthropic leaders to her cause.  Her remarkable work with her students is chronicled in the book, The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change themselves and the World around Them.  Her passion for teaching, her vision and strategic planning, her relationships with her students, her flexibility and innovative thinking, her ability to inspire and motivate her students to become self-directed learners exemplify the qualities of a great teacher.  
 
Erin developed a passion for teaching, and this is the entry point of becoming a great teacher. Great teachers are passionate about teaching; they love and enjoy what they do and are not constrained by time – they don’t see teaching as an 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. job.  Dennis Littky, an award winning principal, said, “You can’t be a great teacher or principal and not work long, long, hours.iii  This is necessary to ensure the success of their students.
 
Having mastery over their subject field is another important trait for great teachers,iv for mastery of content inspires confidence in their teaching, and gives parents and other stakeholders the assurance that their children are receiving a quality education.  But mastery of content must be supported with strong pedagogical content knowledge,v  for without the proper methodology to deliver the lesson, very little learning will take place.  Thus, the great teacher will employ a variety of teaching methodologies based on the nature and learning styles of students.

The teacher who aspires to become a great teacher must also invest time and resources in fostering great relationships with students and parents, and in creating a safe classroom environment where more time is spent in teaching than in managing classroom problems.vi Great teachers must develop organizational skills, be willing to collaborate with other teachers in sharing resources and ideas for the benefit of students, and must be cognizant of and take advantage of current research in education using technologies and data to augment student learning.

Above all, great teachers are identified by their ability to inspire students to take ownership for their learning, to make students fall in love with learning and become self-directed learners and a positive force for the uplifting of society.  I had such a teacher during my first year of high school, and that made all the difference.  He was highly qualified in his subject field, had a warm personality, and demonstrated a sincere interest in the education of each of his students.   He had the ability to make his lessons come alive, attracting the attention of all his students.  He implanted in me a desire to learn, a desire that blossomed into lifelong learning.
As we approach the new school year, let us aspire to become great teachers to help students realize their full potential, thus equipping them for a lifetime of service to God and humanity. 
 
References:
iEllen G. White, True Education, pg. 13.
iiPhil Harkins & Phil Swift: In Search of Leadership: How Great Leaders Answer the Question “Why Lead?” Mc Graw Hill, pg.229.
iiiMark F. Goldberg, “The Qualities of Great Teachers,” http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/104138/chapters/The-Qualities-of-a-Great-Teacher. Accessed July 18, 2015.
ivIbid. Pg.3
vBryan Goodwin, “Research Says…/Good Teachers May Not Fit the Mould,” http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec10/vol68/num04/Good-Teac... Accessed July 18, 2015.
viIbid. Pg.2