Do you remember the teachers you’ve had over the years? In my experience some were bad, but most were good. But only a couple were, in the most positive way, truly memorable.
Unforgettable teacher possess qualities that may not show up on paper but always show up where it matters most -- in the minds and even hearts of the people they teach.
Here are some of the qualities of truly unforgettable teachers:
1. They inspire you to achieve what you thought unachievable.
Most people try to achieve what is easily achievable; that’s why most goals and targets are incremental rather than inconceivable.
Memorable teachers expect more -- from themselves and from others. Then they show you how to get there not simply sit back and merely tell you. They lead by example. And they bring you along for what turns out to be an unbelievable journey.
2. They understand each student’s motivation.
Just as each student has a different set of interests, every student will have a correspondingly different set of motivators. Each of us in an individual and has our own reasons and motivating factors for being in a class. Some will be there mainly due to external forces and will simply rely on those external motivators, but worse, we’ve all run into students who really can’t find a relationship between what makes them tick and what’s happening in the classroom around them.
These students run the risk of disengaging altogether. Once they do this it won’t be long before they quit. This is where the master teacher knows that they must build a relationship with each of their students. They must help them to contextualize the things they are learning to allow the student to make a connection with something in his realm of interest. It’s crucial that the student be able to make a clear connection from what they are learning to something of practical value to them to consistently fuel their motivation to continue their education. Teachers who can’t help students make this connection need to rethink what’s going on and how they are building relationships with their students. After all, what IS the point of training/learning in which a student finds no interest and for which he can make no connection?
3. They are normal people, not heroes.
Yes, a teacher can be a hero. Now let’s get past the surface stuff to what this really means. Some teachers still have trouble showing any sort of weakness, vulnerability or fallibility. These teachers will go out of their way to not show emotion or hide their true feelings. Why? Other teachers jump through hoops and do all sorts of logic dances to avoid admitting “I have no idea what the answer to your question is.” Still others will do everything they can to avoid engaging with their students for fear of being shown up or bested by them. But teachers who genuinely connect with students are the ones who aren’t afraid to show their emotions, who can admit that they don't know everything and are in fact still learning themselves.
Of course nobody wants to be taught by someone who is an emotional wreck or that isn't secure or knowledgeable, but what better way to teach them that it's OK to be human than to be human ourselves? What better way to develop open communication and to teach that it’s OK not to know something than to say “I don’t know, let’s find the answer together!”?
4. They take pride in the success of their students.
A great teacher wants to see all of their students succeed and isn't afraid or threatened by the prospect of a student achieving a higher level of skill, proficiency or success than they themselves have. Rather they take pride in this knowing that they have done a great job as a teacher. A great teacher also never withholds knowledge from a student as a means to keep them dependent on them or from outshining them.
5. They’ve been there, done that... and still do that.
Dues aren't paid, past tense. Dues get paid each and every day. The true measure of value is the tangible contribution we make on a daily basis.
That’s why no matter what they may have accomplished in the past, memorable teachers are never to good to roll up their sleeves, get dirty, and put the work in. They are not above doing even the most menial of tasks. No job is beneath them even if it means sweeping the floor, putting out the trash or cleaning the bathroom.
Your title whether it be Sifu, Master, Sensi etc. does not make you better than anyone else or give you a free pass. Memorable teachers never feel entitled to receiving respect without having to continue to earn it.
6. They lead by permission, not authority.
Good for you, you have a title. Fill in the blank (Sifu, Master, Sensei, Grandmaster]. That title gives you the right to direct others, to make decisions, to organize and instruct and discipline.
Memorable teachers lead because their students want them to lead. Their students are motivated and inspired by the person, not the title.
Through their words and more importantly their actions they cause students to feel as is if they are taking this journey with the teacher not for them. The teacher does not throw their title around as a means to constantly remind everyone who is in control and place everyone else beneath themselves.
7. They embrace a larger purpose.
A good teacher will have goals and will work to achieve them.
A memorable teacher will also have those goals and work to achieve them but those goals will include more than just personal or professional achievements. They work to serve a larger purpose: to enhance the lives of others, to support their students with life's many struggles, to instill a sense of pride and self-worth in others, to live a life of service and give more than they take. They aren’t just remembered for their personal achievements but for helping others on a personal and individual level.
Memorable teachers embrace a larger purpose, because they know the teacher-student relationship is always personal.
8. They take real, not fake risks.
Many teachers, like many people, try to stand out in some superficial way. Maybe through their clothes, their interests, some public display or going along with what is popular. They do stand out but they stand out for some superficial reason and not something of real substance. They are all fluff.
Memorable teachers stand out because they are willing to take an unpopular stand, take an unpopular step, accept the discomfort and criticism of ignoring the status quo, and risk sailing uncharted waters, very often by themselves.
They take real risks not for the same of risk but for the sake of the reward they believe possible. And by their example they inspire others to take risks in order to achieve what they believe is possible.
In short, memorable teachers inspire others to achieve their dreams: by words, by actions, and most importantly, by example.