(Image courtesy thejonoakley with permission
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)
As an adult learner, I have had a number of teachers, two of whom have been truly inspirational: Jenny Brown at Hartcliffe College in the UK in 1995, and Dianna Purcell at Central TAFE in Australia in 2006.
Curiously enough, both delivered learning about the teaching of adults. I had experience of another teacher (who shall remain nameless) in the same subject whose delivery was at the opposite end of the spectrum, this indicating that it was the teachers rather than the subject that underlay my reaction.
My memories of Jenny Brown lie behind 14 years of fog, while those of Dianna Purcell are only 3 years distant, and I also have a contemporaneous e-mail that I sent to the managing director of Central TAFE. Another student of Jenny’s from an earlier cohort agrees with me that she was inspirational. Discussions with other students suggest that not all of them found these teachers to be particularly inspirational, so it must be emphasised that this is a personal, rather than universal, assessment. Also, in the 11 years that separated these two teachers, I had learned a lot about adult teaching principles, so I was able to focus much more on how Dianna was able to work her magic.
What Makes for an Inspirational Teacher?
Approach to the Student
Both of these teachers were thoroughly student-centred.
They were there for the students – if there were no students, they would be out of work. They saw their rôle as being there to serve their students’ learning needs. This was not at the purely intellectual level, this was at the level of real emotional commitment.
Both teachers had full command of the subject. They were able to respond to every question without hesitation and with complete authority.
Both teachers were teaching about teaching. They themselves provided excellent rôle models for their students to follow.
Lesson Planning and Execution
Every lesson was thoroughly planned. The execution of each plan was modified appropriately to suit the students’ reaction on a moment-by-moment basis. This latter was informed both teachers having the quality described next.
Powers of Observation and Empathy
Of all the points in this blog, this is perhaps the one that really marks out both of these teachers as being inspirational. They were both first class in getting inside their students’ minds. They were able to offer comments and suggestions that were based on the student’s own world view, and so those comments and suggestions were always useful. In this way, they were directly helpful to all their students, and so created a wonderfully supportive atmosphere.
By way of example, Dianna established my own interest in teaching horse riding, and did so in the guise of merely having an informal and friendly conversation. She then used this as a suggestion for a work-based assignment, to which I readily agreed. All the other students and another lecturer to whom I mentioned this all reacted negatively, along the lines of “That’s way too hard!”. The assignment went exactly as I had planned it, and the outcome met with Dianna’s unreserved approval. The prior reaction of my peers adds emphasis (for me) that Dianna got it right.
Can it be Done On-line?
I was asked by a fellow blogger as I was preparing this post if it was possible to be an inspirational teacher in an on-line environment. The answer is yes, as there is no real reason why the qualities above cannot be communicated to the students in that environment.
Have You Come Across Such a Teacher?
You might like to share your own experiences of inspirational teachers in comments box for others to read.
My thanks go to Michael Gras for inspiring this post.