Good teacher, Bad teacher

Recently I’ve been thinking about teachers that I’ve had, which ones were good or bad, and what makes them so. I can remember teachers who inspired me, and whom I loved, whose classes I enjoyed. I can also remember those who worked like a sedative, or whom I didn’t respect.

Well, I just remembered a teacher who was both the best and the worst teacher. It’s a good reminder that ‘good teacher’ and ‘bad teacher’ may only exist in fairy tales, and that, just as people in general, teachers are multi-dimensional and complex. There may be aspects of their teaching that are good or bad, but they themselves can be both.

My teacher of Russian (from the age of 6 years to about 16) – and I knew her well until she died at the age of 91 – used to torment me with disparaging remarks about my ‘bad’ character, as displayed in my handwriting (narrow at the time, an obvious mark of mean character), and the fact that I was Pisces. At the age of 9, I had reached saturation point with her constant negative remarks and exploded at her, telling her that I hated her. We made up, and she continued to teach me. As an adult, I continued to visit her, and was able to forgive the early years, developing a close relationship with her, and considering her earlier ‘faults’ as idiosyncracies.

What I will always remember her for was her passionate commitment to teaching. She would speak about literature, art, drama, architecture, historial events in a way that convinced me they were part of her life, never something she had just learned from a book. She used to direct Russian-language plays, and would be directly involved in every aspect, including stage design, music, choreography – she would paint the set, design costumes, edit the script, coach us with our lines and expression, research for historical accuracy, give us the background to authors, genre, etc. She gave up every hour in her day, and we were fortunate to have had these experiences, although we didn’t always appreciate this at the time.

I think she would have embraced modern technology. I was still visiting her up until her death. In her last days, before her cancer became too unbearable, I remember her little unit with its map of the world on the wall, so that she could follow world news events, and all her books, her notebooks with summaries and research, sketches, plans. I can imagine her enjoying Google Earth, or saving her newly found links in Delicious. She lived to teach, but even more than that, she lived to learn, and I saw her learning with an unquenchable fervour, her mind fresh and excited, until her death. She is a real inspiration to me. She wasn’t perfect, and she’s a reminder that none of us are, and that you can still be great, even as you are imperfect.

11 thoughts on “Good teacher, Bad teacher”

  1. God Tania… you made me cry with this blog. What an amazing woman you were fortunate enough to have known! What an amazing life and you are lucky to have shared it even though it was difficult at times.

    I agree… there is a god(dess) and a monster in every teacher. We are very complex and we are not immune to “real life” impacting on our daily teaching practice. I for one have been a casualty of the monster in me coming out at times. But students are resilient and are able to recognise that “miss is just having a bad day”.

    We are human after all. In fact I had the opportunity to run tino an ex student recently who was rather troublesome behaviour wise at school. Actually, he was a plumber called in to fix a leaking sewerage pipe at school. He told me that even though he was in trouble a lot, primary school was the most rewarding experience for him.

    So, even though we have “off” days we make a difference to every life we come into contact with.

    I bet that’s what your Russian teacher thought too.

  2. I appreciate your comment, Robyn, and you make some great points. Don’t you think, for every student who tells you what an impact you were in their life, there are many whose story remains untold?

  3. I couldn’t agree more with all of you …. I am crying too right now…and so are a lot of people….this is sad. A lot of things are very sad in the world right now…. but the optimistic thing is that “l” language is universal, so are children! their art, their music, their thoughts…..and even their imperfections! Some of their parents on the other hand…..

  4. Thanks for the feedback, Jenny and Gail.
    Gail, imperfections are what we have in common!
    Jenny, great to see you here, and welcome back. Loved your latest post. Bungled English is a favourite haunt of mine.

  5. Powerful stuff Tania. An excellent reminder about the impact teachers can have and that even hurtful mistakes can be rectified and grow into beautiful things. You’ve captured so much, so elegantly, so concisely.

  6. Thankyou for your kind comments, Darren. Great to see you here. Funny, I just finished reading your post ‘I read the news today’. So many big, wonderful, important ideas, and the slideshow! How long did that take?

  7. Your post made me nostalgic. My first teacher was like yours. And it makes me wonder if my students will talk about me in this same way.

    I really should try to be a better teacher.

    Thanks for doing to myself an inner deep analysis!

  8. You can’t get those people out of your head. I think about this woman so often. I also think, I should try to be a better teacher. I should try to be a better parent. A better wife. Daughter. Sister. I suppose it makes us realise what a part we really play in others’ lives, even if we don’t think about it often.
    Thanks for your comment. Amanda’s video is very powerful, as is her blog. Where did you find her?

  9. I tried with my students from Psychology to see the power of Google not as a search engine but as a dictionary. And we type define:autism and from there from link to link we found this videoclip.

    I think I saw it first on my twitter network but I’m not sure.

  10. The slides for I heard the news today. Oh boy! did take some time but, thankfully, I didn’t have to make it all from scratch. I had given a similar talk about 2 years ago and expanded and refined some of the things I had talked about then. As I look at it now (and thanks to the comments folks have left on my blog) I still see lots of room for improvement. It’s one of the most difficult talks I’ve ever given as a presenter.

    Thanks for the compliments.

    You’ve really got me reminiscing about my own teachers growing up and the way I interact with my own students today. Still chewing on it all before I post. 😉

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