My dad was right; I have forgotten almost everything any teacher worked to teach me. It is my character that has been improved. (Please see previous post.) That is the lasting influence of those who were most effective. The facts and skills I have taught myself (often again) as I have needed them. I was empowered by the best of my teachers to teach myself and learn what I needed.
What is common to the teacher’s whose presence in my life I still recall and influence I can still trace is that they were all demanding — but not severe. They were people who did not even offer the possibility of ‘just doing assignments’ or ‘passing tests.’ The instruments of teaching and assessment were not the point. The point was the challenge and the fruit it would grow in our lives.
In earlier years at school these were the teachers who were called ‘disciplinarians.’ They shaped the environment in the classroom such that it took on the characteristics of a well-managed event. We knew what we were supposed to do. We knew what we were not supposed to do. And, like an unyielding director of a stage performance, these teachers made clear that there was no room given to behaviour that did not conform to the purpose of the experience.
It wasn’t about controlling our thoughts or dominating us. These were not the teachers who yelled or humiliated you. They were comfortable with questions — even appropriate challenges to what they were teaching (and, sometimes, even how they were teaching it). They were people who wanted you to participate in a shared adventure; and they wanted your dedication to that adventure for a semester or a year together as a class.
None of these teachers of whom I speak were ever disrespectful of their students. Neither would they allow for disrespect to be shown by anyone to anyone else. We worked hard; often very hard. And some of the lessons and expectations caused misery at the time. These teachers knew it. They were like coaches demanding more of athletes. Good enough was never good enough. What was needed was the best that was possible at that moment.
Another common thing about these teachers was that they were humble in their own lives. They did not form cults of personality; and they resisted the efforts of any to shape such in proximity to them. They did not boast of who they were. And, as I observed many times, when they retired from teaching, they did so without fanfare. Teaching itself was their reward.
It is clear to me now that one of the most important things they had us grapple with was the witness of how they lived their lives. They accepted the tough challenge of doing more than giving lectures and marking assignments. They accepted the challenge of making a meaningful impression on our characters. They were tough on themselves; just as they were tough on their students. Their work would go unnoticed, perhaps, unless one took time to bring it to memory — and give thanks.