On being a great teacher

Blue School prospective parents sometimes ask me what qualifications I look for in a teacher, or where our teachers come from. I usually stop and have to think, because the qualifications for me of a masterful teacher are truly a set of personal and intellectual qualities demonstrated over time more than a list of itemized skills. And while checklists, rubrics, and multiple lists of attributes that define great teaching and skilled teachers certainly exist, I think we have lost the forest for the trees in a profession that lies so stubbornly on that sparkling line between art and science.

For me, and at Blue School, a masterful teacher is a person of intellect, who is engaged and excited by the prospect of understanding a child’s mind, personhood, and individual nature a little bit better every day. She has chosen this vocation not to be loved by her students, but to appreciate and understand who they are and the mystery and wonder that they bring each day. A masterful teacher has fun with children and holds them in the highest regard (and thus to the highest standards), looks them in the eyes, laughs at their jokes, smiles when they succeed, and helps them get up when they fail.

A masterful teacher has a vision for the classroom that is both responsive to the children he teaches but also unwavering in his attention to what they need to learn at all developmental stages. She knows that freedom of thought comes within structure and parameters. He cherry-picks the best from great educational programs and current ideas, and makes them his own. She is inviting to families and values their partnership, and works to ensure that each child is seen and known from all sides. He is a reader of books and a person with ideas about the world.

A masterful teacher is a team player, and knows that her practice is as much about building the school as it is about her classroom. She is courageous enough to take and incorporate feedback from colleagues, and creative enough to take the suggestions farther than the giver ever intended. He is a collaborator through thick and thin, knowing the work of nurturing good citizens and people requires hearing one another out, healthy disagreement, and patience, as well as the thrill that comes with an idea better played out by two rather than one. She is exceedingly humble and curious about our work, knowing that the more she learns, the more questions she will have.

This is a tall order, and it is no wonder that as the national conversation about education narrows, so many of these brilliant and expansive thinkers are leaving the classroom. I see it as my responsibility to create a culture where people like this can learn, grow, take risks and thrive, just as we want them to do for our children.