by Jon Eckert, Ed.D.
We know them when we see them.
Almost everyone I know has had a transformational teacher. These are teachers that change the trajectory of students’ lives. They are not just good teachers who do an adequate job of communicating a subject or subjects. Great teachers help us see the world differently. We see ourselves and others differently. They inspire hope, passion, and perseverance.
How do they do it? Although it feels like magic, it is not. Great teachers at all levels connect with students in three ways.
We all want to be known by others. Great teachers help us to feel known. This starts with basic things like knowing our names within the first day or week. I have not met a great teacher yet who does not know his/her students’ names within the first week. More importantly, great teachers help their students know themselves. In great classrooms, students know their strengths, where they have already grown, and where they can continue to grow because of honest assessment and feedback.
The relationship between the teacher and the student is a sacred one. This is the role that Jesus took with his disciples. There is a bond between teacher and students that is powerful because it is predicated on trust and understanding. Trust develops through appropriate self-disclosure and vulnerability as we learn from and with each other.
In the classrooms of great teachers, a community develops. Students care for and teach each other. Students learn to care for the community in which their schools and homes are located. They learn to care for God’s creation and become good stewards of his resources. This happens through service learning like visiting retirement homes or serving at homeless shelters. Schools work best when they connect with community resources. When learning is in the service of others, there is always a purpose.
As Tim Keller writes, “Every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling can matter forever.” Great Christian teachers know this is a daily pursuit. Those “simple” endeavors include giving timely feedback, ensuring materials are ready each day, and making sure each child feels safe to take risks. Students of these teachers internalize the calling implicit in the work that is before them. The product of great teachers are students who flourish and reflect their Creator’s glory.