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I was, however, a student for many, many years. In those years I had my share of so-so teachers and more than my share of good ones. Then, for many years, I have been a teacher, and so have been surrounded by other teachers. In those years I came to develop a sense both of what students expect in responsible teachers and of who among my many colleagues in the profession are the most effective teachers. After a lifetime as a student and a teacher I have developed a working list of the qualities that most good teachers share.
My method is pretty unscientific. My evidence is personal, memorial, observational, and narrow. My hope is that my readers will be inspired to think less about what I have noticed makes a good teacher than about what they themselves have noticed.
Good teachers really want to be good teachers
Good teachers try and try and try to be good teachers, and they let students know they try. Just as we respect students who really try, even if they do not succeed in everything they do, so students will respect us, even if we are not as good as we want to be. And just as we will do almost anything to help students who really want to succeed, they will help us to be good teachers if they sense that we are sincere in our efforts to succeed at teaching.
Some things teachers can fake. Some things teachers must fake. We have, for example, to act our way into letting our students believe that we can't think of any place we would rather be at 8:10 a.m. on a Friday morning than in class with them talking about the difference between a comma splice and a run-on sentence.
An acting course is good preparation for a life in the classroom because it shows us how to pretend convincingly. Our students probably know on some level that we would rather be across the street sipping a cup of Starbucks than caged up with twenty-four paste-faced first-years who count on our joyous enthusiasm and enlivening wit to be the cup of caffeine that will get them ready for their 9:10 a.m. class. But they will forgive our chicanery, even if they suspect that we are faking our joy and cheerfulness.
Students will know it by the second day, however, if we don't really want to be good teachers, and they will have trouble forgiving us for that. Wanting--really, truly, honestly wanting--to be a good teacher is more than halfway home.