Real teachers not exclusive to K-12 setting

Teachers can be found everywhere there are people willing to be students.

When someone asks what her four daughters do for a living, it’s customary for my retired high school English teacher mother to respond that three are teachers. She’s referring to my three sisters, of course, who have taught in K-12 grade settings.

It doesn’t count that I hold a master’s degree in education and have taught for both a university and a community college. I don’t seem to fit the textbook definition of real teacher, as in one who traffics in textbooks.

As near as I can discern, real teachers are presumed to be those who attended college with specific intent to teach, completed their student-teaching, obtained a teaching license and hired into an educational setting that involved parent/teacher conferences and summer vacation.

None of my teaching experiences have fallen within that collection of elements, but that doesn’t that make me any less of a teacher. However, I have observed teachers who technically meet the real teacher definition, but couldn’t teach their way out of a wet paper bag, let alone one of those white plastic sacks most grocery stores now use.

So what makes a real teacher? It can’t be just a degree and a license. We all know people who possess a driver’s license, but with whom we’re afraid to ride. It surpasses standard-issue credentials. A real teacher is someone with not merely subject knowledge, but the ability to connect with a variety of students and communicate that knowledge.

Nothing is more frustrating to a student than encountering a teacher who, regardless of level of subject matter expertise, is unable to adequately convey it. Many times it’s due to an inability to relate to others on a human level. We’ve all met and suffered at the instructional hands of such teachers.

Fortunately, I’ve had the pleasure of being exposed to the opposite extreme: A handful of truly gifted teachers, many of whom were not encountered in an official educational capacity. Their respective impacts on my life were far-reaching.

Nancy Drake imparted fitness fundamentals that made learning any sport possible. My Grandma Kate Donovan demonstrated real cooking involves the ability to improvise with limited ingredients. Tom Marshall joyfully exposed me to the stride genre of piano playing and accompanying musicology that inspired emulation.

Mack Lipe of Allegiance Health has a way of meeting his A-STEP students where they are using humor and common sense.

Boston Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Benjamin Zander convinced me, within the confines of a two-hour lecture and his book, that The Art of Possibility should not be confined by convention. Allegiance Health A-STEP (Sleep Technologist Education Program) Coordinator Mack Lipe showed by example how to meet people where they are and the persuasive power of sharing personal experiences. My cousin, RC Smith, exemplifies curiosity-driven learning and models “how you do anything is how you do everything.”

My most educational teacher has been my husband, Kerry Rasmussen. He has an understated way of reducing any learning objective to its most basic elements and teaching them first. Whether he’s teaching an engineering process, gun handling or card playing, he’s careful not to overwhelm with too much information too early and will not cover more advanced material until his “student” demonstrates proficiency with preliminary information.

The common denominators among this eclectic, but effective group of teachers are: A focus on core principles, enjoyment of instruction, use of imagination and story.

Psychologist Dr. Terry L. Paulson, sometimes referred to as the “Will Rogers of Management Consultants” advises to never underestimate the value of stories and humor to make a memorable point. “If stories were good enough for Jesus and Lincoln, they may be good enough for you.” That’s hard to argue.

While most of us have been exposed to Biblical parables, we should remain alert for beneficial teaching tales beyond the pulpit. Another business world figure, David Armstrong of Three Rivers’ Armstrong International, outlined the benefits of business-related storytelling in his books Managing by Storying Around (1992) and Parables for Profits (1995). I learned a great deal from him during a journalistic interview in the late 1990s.

Don’t overlook the many learning opportunities available just because you didn’t ride up on a school bus and they aren’t sitting behind a desk. Teachers appear in unexpected places to those who remain open and humble to the possibility of learning.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sheldon Phillips
    Sep 09, 2011 @ 03:03:27

    Thank you for teaching Kristy


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