Question: What makes a good science teacher?
It took me forever to answer this question, mostly because I don’t know the magic formula that makes a good science teacher, but I finally came up with a useful answer. Well, I think.
I think that a good science teacher has the same qualities that any good teacher has. I have had many more terrible teachers than good ones, so I will begin by telling you about the qualities of those teachers whom I hated, and then I will tell you a little bit about the best high school teacher I ever had.
I hated (science) teachers who;
- made me feel stupid (mostly because I happen to be female). Seriously, how many times can one be completely ignored or publically ridiculed for asking questions before they stop asking anything at all?
- told me I was stupid (a certain high school math teacher comes to mind .. I am tempted to name him here because he was such a general menace to learning. And hey, I am good at math, too. But I was bored nearly to tears in his stupid class).
- didn’t care about their subject (or anything else, for that matter) — even smart kids have a tough time learning from teachers who Really Don’t Care.
- knew very little about their subject(s).
- talked to us as if we cared little about the subject.
Okay, now that I have said all that, I will tell you about my World History teacher who, despite my early (and lifelong) love of science and math, opened my eyes to the value of history and made it entirely easy to fall in love with this subject, simply because he was so fascinating to listen to.
Every Friday was “casual day” in my World History class. Mr. Bell, an elegant and articulate man who often wore a suit and tie, came in to class and began Friday’s lecture by sitting on the corner of his large beat-up wood desk, and told us stories about what was happening in the world each week. As if it mattered that wheat farmers’ kids knew anything about the world and its problems.
Mr. Bell spoke of world leaders as if he knew them personally, and his stories and humor made them come alive for us. He related conversations to us that were published in magazines and newspapers as if he had heard them himself. He described the situation and told us about each leader’s motives and past. Suddenly, instead of being remote and distant, instead of merely being two-dimensional photographs in US News & World Report, in Time magazine or in one of the many newspapers, these world leaders and their advisors became living and breathing human beings whose spectres seemed to be prowling through swirling dust-motes in my classroom, casually weaving between our desks, explaining and defending their actions and words to all of us, to the daughters and sons of carpenters and mechanics. And we sometimes decided their actions and words were inadequate, or worse.
Then, after Mr. Bell’s presentation ended, the entire class would go to the library where, for the remainder of the class time, we were allowed to read anything we wished, as long as it was about world events, and then we wrote a one-page report about what we read. Amazingly, instead of patrolling the library like an overzealous security guard, Mr. Bell would loosen his tie, snuggle into a chair, sometimes with one leg draped casually over the arm, and read alongside all of us.
We all loved asking questions of Mr. Bell. Even though he had a quick sense of humor, he never ridiculed us, never treated our impressions as if they were silly or insipid; no, he always thought seriously about our questions. That alone motivated me to zealously read US News & World Report and several newspapers every day so I could formulate a question to ask him each Friday, so I could be the one to ask him that one special question that would cause him to pause, that he would linger over during class time, that would make him think, that he would savor like a fine wine while he carefully considered his response.
In addition to making history live for me, and in addition to all the other valuable lessons that he taught me, Mr. Bell showed me through his shining example that good teaching is a combination of qualities; knowledge, passion and compassion, enthusiasm, love of learning, vision, humor, and of course, “chemistry” with the students — basically, all those qualities that make us human is what good teaching is all about.
Where ever you are, Dave Bell, thank you so much for being the fabulous teacher that you were. You were, and are, unforgettable to me.
So, now that I’ve written this little tribute to my World History teacher, who was the finest teacher I had in high school, now I ask you, dear readers, what makes a good (science) teacher?