The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates.
What is it that makes a truly great teacher? How can all that aspire to be great teachers reach this goal?
Teaching is truly an art form; it takes much more than knowing the subject matter and understanding child development. To be a great teacher, you have to make a difference in a student’s life. You need to challenge, encourage, scold at times, and inspire students to reach for distant goals and move beyond their current capabilities and skills.
NAfME member David Branson credits his grandfather for great advice about raising children that he believes applies to teaching as well. His grandfather recommended that “Parents watch their children, study them, and look to see what interests and skills they possess. Then nurture those interests and skills, and guide them to accomplish their goals by building upon the potential you see inside of them.”
A great teacher, says Branson, observes each student, looks for their unique skills and interests, and then guides each student to develop those abilities. Many of the students in music classes will never go on to have a career in music, yet what they learn from music teachers are vital life lessons. Teachers need to demonstrate compassion, understanding, humanity, rigor, and high standards. They must expect students to work at their highest possible level. It is a form of prejudice to accept less than a child’s best effort. Accept the students’ current level of skill and then develop their skills further.
Students need to know that teachers care for them, respect each of them as people, and love them enough to not accept less than their best efforts. Branson advises that you think carefully about the messages you give to your students by how you conduct yourself in your work. Students will remember much more of what you demonstrated by your behavior and how you spoke to them than by your actual words. Integrity, fairness, accountability, a sense of humor, and compassion are critical to good teaching.
Adapted from an article by David Branson, past Western Division President for NAfME. He has served as a state president in Nevada and has had various positions on section and state boards for the past 25 years. David currently serves as the Administrator for music/art for the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada.
—Becky Spray, originally posted January 27, 2010. © National Association for Music Education