I had a lot of good teachers over the years. Most fit in the good category with a couple in the horrible column. But, I can think of two amazing teachers.
Why were they amazing? They made the world bigger and yet less scary. They opened up doors to thoughts and learning styles that engaged and challenged the students.
The first one was a middle school math teacher. He taught regular math, but he also taught an elective math course that could only be taken by A students. Yes, geek that I am, I fit in that category. I actually took two math courses that semester in middle school.
Instead of sitting at desks and being lectured, he taught us by doing. We did programming and got to find out about infinite loops by screwing up. It was totally a logic section, but it made sense. And then we learned probability and how did we learn it? He set up a casino in the classroom. We got to see the lessons in action.
It made math real and relevant. Sadly, some of the people who probably were struggling with math would have learned more in this class than in traditional classrooms. But, he was a fabulous math teacher and I credit him with keeping me in math when it was getting boring.
My second was a college professor. He was head of the honors department and also taught the freshman English/Sociology course in that department.
Coming from a standard high school, sociology was just not taught. And the entire semester was existentialism. Nope, not a Sartre or Nietzsche in sight. We read Camus, Kafka, Dostoevsky and Conrad. We wrangled with ideas that were fascinating and mind-blowing when you are 18. We watched Apocalypse Now and tied it to Heart of Darkness.
The best part? You could take it again as a sophomore for credit. It was then a class of students who were a year older and had fabulously different ideas than the previous year. It was a fascinating thing to read the same works even a year apart and see how you had grown and changed.
He was irreverent and outspoken and as long as you were respectful of everyone in the class, there was not a topic that wasn’t encouraged. I even took his non-honors course that was one of the hardest ones to get into in the entire university. What was it? The sociology of sex. And let me tell you, he knew how to make some people incredibly uncomfortable by challenging their narrow views of the world.
You know those people who you remember and they always make you smile? He was that professor.
I guess to me, at least, in order to be a great teacher, you need to expand the student’s world in some way. Not an easy thing to do, but when it happens, it is magical.