Whose image comes up in your mind when you read the phrase “your favorite teacher”? Whose visage beams through, obscuring all the others? Does a warm glow inside accompany the memory? Probably because something about that teacher was really good for you.
Think about why. What was it about this teacher that has kept a hold on your memory in such a positive way all these years? What was so great about her or him? What did you gain from that class, that year, those courses? What did you take with you that has lasted?
Recently 1,099 adults were asked questions like this by the Horace Mann Educators Corporation of Illinois. When the results were compiled, the Mann survey revealed something most interesting: In aby far the majority of cases, the most enduring teachers were not the ones with the most facts in their heads or who delivered the mostinformation. They were not those who the firmest or deepest grasp of “knowledge.” Instead, favorites were those who had displayed a personal interest in their students, caring and engaging dynamics, genuine love for their role as a teacher, and who continually offered encouragement and praise. These characteristics most often earned the honor and accolade of “favorite teacher.”
As I learned about this research, I instantly recalled an article from a few years ago about a voluntary public-school busing program in the Boston area called METCO in which inner city kids are transported each day to “good school systems” in the suburbs. Focusing on what the city kids in the system felt they got the most out of the program, that is, why it was a good experience for them, and also on why their parents believed enrolling their child in the program had been a good move, the article came to focus on one universally-reported feature.
After the usual perfunctory comments about better textbooks and classroom resources, the article's quotes and references settled down, paragraph after paragraph, to describing and extolling the virtues of individualized, positive interpersonal dynamics between teacher and student. Said one youngster: “Teachers at my school in this program are constantly telling me that I can make something of myself, that I can succeed, go to college, become someone important. I don't always get that kind of talk back in my own neighborhood.”
The article demonstrated that the overwhelming benefit of poor children attending “rich” schools may lie not in the glimmer of new textbooks or spiffy science or computer labs but rather in the simple yet powerful caring words of the teachers themselves. The researchers at Horace Mann would most assuredly agree.
Ken Lizotte CMC is Chief Imaginative Officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group inc. (Concord, MA), which transforms consultants, law firms, executives and companies into “thoughtleaders.” This article is an excerpt from his newest book "Beyond Reason: Questioning Assumptions of Everyday Life".
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