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What makes a good teacher? Listen to what the real experts say. The kids in class

Being good at what you do is relative. Efficiency, quality, expertise are matters of perspective. For instance, I think I’m a fairly decent dancer, but what I think are good moves in the obscurity of my living room is quite different from the measure of quality at Julliard.

That’s what we do, though, isn’t it? We stumble through life looking for the measuring stick, the standard by which to measure ourselves. If we could just get a glimpse of what the world thinks is good, we could know where we stand and then learn how to get better, do better, be better.

When teachers need a bit of clarity concerning their efficiency, believe me, there are plenty of people available to inform them. Lots of people. Quite a laundry list of vocals are speedy in their evaluations, so a teacher never has to wait very long to hear advice from judges who emphatically believe their perspectives to be the right and only perspective.

However, I learned quickly in my teaching career that the voices that matter don’t always belong to the emphatics, the boisterous, the quick to speak. From the College of Hard Knocks, the voices I learned to bend my ear toward come from the still, small voices of my students. Logically, they are the real measures of efficiency, quality, and expertise inside the classroom.

From the mouths of babes comes the true measuring stick. If teachers want to know if they meet the standard of good teaching, just ask a first grader at Midland Academy. What does it mean to be a good teacher? Here is what the experts said:

Danny: “Be smart.” According to Danny’s simplicity, teachers need to know a little about everything, and although that may be somewhat true, teachers truly are lifelong learners. They must be in order to sustain themselves in an ever-evolving world. If students see their teachers’ investments into their own personal intellects, the sentiment becomes contagious. So, Danny was right. Teachers need to be smart.

Chrissy and Kevin: “Keep people safe and help kids when ‘dangered’.” This is a relatively recent quality requirement of a teacher, one that scares us all. But the reality is, for 8 hours of a child’s day during the school year, a teacher is the first line of defense. For a young child growing up in a mean world, that line is a requirement. A child can not learn if he doesn’t feel safe. Simple as that.

Steven: “Teach kids how to be good.” Steven has a better understanding of the role of a teacher than many people. Beyond content, beyond curriculum is the matter of the heart – the innate reason most teachers were compelled, even called into the ministry of education. Just as so many of our children, Steven is looking to his teacher for something more than a skill or a nugget of knowledge. He’s looking for lessons on how to be a good person. Thank you, teachers, for accepting Steven’s mandate and living up to the bar he has set for you.

Joseph: “Have fun activities for kids.” I giggled at Joseph’s measuring stick. Teachers are in a constant battle to win back their students’ attention from cell phones, video games, Snapchat, or Netflix marathons. If you haven’t conceptualized that battle before, think about how hard it is. When we were growing up, a teacher just had to start talking, and we listened. We engaged ourselves in our own learning because, well, we knew it was important. Now, not so much. So, the efficiency of engagement no longer falls into the hands of the student. Innate motivation is disappearing. Now, a teacher must capture and captivate. That’s a hard thing to continuously do, but if teachers are going to live up to Joseph’s standard, they simply must.

Mitchell: “A good teacher is a teacher that teaches. She keeps trying even if it’s hard or not; she pays attention to her students and helps her students no matter what.” A profound professor Mitchell is. There are so many underlying efficiencies outlined in Mitchell’s vision of a good teacher that he needs no comment from this peanut gallery, so I’ll move on to Ian.

Ian: “Spread happiness.” Oh, a boy after my own heart. Amid the pressure to perform, the mandate to secure and keep safe, the call to teach with competence and intelligence, the wish of a child remains – spread positivity. Be contagious in kindness. Walk in generosity and patience. Demonstrate peace and love.

Ian has high expectations – expectations we all should have of the people around us. Not just of our teachers. Imagine that kind of world, though. I challenge you. Calibrate yourself according to Ian’s measuring stick. Are you good?

Sheryl Green is secondary educator in Columbus. Email her at