When I think of what makes a great teacher, I first must backtrack to preface this opinion by stating what does NOT make a good teacher. While it is no secret that I loathed school growing up and that I never really gave it my best effort, there is a lot to be said for some of the shenanigans to which I was subjected by certain teachers.
Among my most vivid memories from school – second grade to be exact – was an incident that occurred in the art portion of class. Frankly after this incident it is a wonder any scintilla of creativity remained with me at all! The materials were a large sheet of construction paper, a stack of small, multi-colored sheets of tissue paper and the ubiquitous Elmer’s glue. She held up an example of what we were to do with these articles – basically make a pretty picture using the tissue paper was my take-away. Seemed simple enough, right?
Apparently, my inner Picasso felt the need to spread her budding wings and interpret, apparently without license, my creative expression of the example we’d been shown. Enchanted with the art rather than the mechanical details of the process, I took to rolling each colored tissue into a small ball and glued them in my desired order on the sheet of construction paper. It looked awesome and nubby and, in my mind, perfect!
Sadly, however, the Nazi who was supervising our execution of the devoid-of-art class was wholly horrified at what I had set about creating and proceeded to not only scold my failure to rigidly adhere to the precise method by which the example was constructed, like some rebellious assembly line worker, but added insult to embarrassment when she quite literally tore up my project in front of my face, requiring me to start.
This memory has stuck with me for 40 years and will remain not only my earliest bad memory of school, but the most vivid as well.
By stark contrast, one of my favorite teachers was “Mentor” – that’s what he told us to call him. To this day I have no idea what his real name was, all I remember were his signature 70s plaid trousers (yes, I am that old), button up short sleeve shirt and bow tie, over which he dawned a pristine white lab coat. Mentor was one of the science teachers in middle school (junior high to us old folks) and he made what could have been a painfully boring subject very enjoyable. Demonstrating the caustic effects of acid, or the electrical conductivity of a potato, always infusing jokes into his interaction with us.
Thankfully the time honored practice of embarrassment and humiliation, which seemed to be a common and accepted method of mentoring when I was a student, are gone. Time and litigation appear to have eradicated emotional abuse from the classroom and curriculum.
So while I aspire to someday teach photography to middle and high school students, I am reminded of these two examples and it is not hard to glean from them the paradigm after which I will model my teaching style.