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What it Takes

The Best Teacher My Kids Have Ever Had


The teacher all three of my women-children agree is the best they’ve ever had, admits he hated school when he was a kid.

“And I was a lousy student!” he adds as a dramatic exclamation point.

At first, I’m a little taken aback when I hear this during a parent-teacher conference, but the more I listen to him, I realize what he’s saying makes perfect sense. I come away with a theory: The child who acted out in the classroom has turned into a fantastic actor, performing for children every day.

I know, I know – he doesn’t get paid like one.

Unlike the girls’ favorite elementary school teacher, I always liked school. And my kids love it. It amazes me when, every June – two, three days after the last day of school, the day everyone has been anticipating for weeks – someone declares, “Let’s play school!”

It’s fun eavesdropping on this kind of imaginative play, although listening in secretly usually isn’t all that necessary. More often than not, I’m assigned the role of principal or cafeteria monitor. With its wall-sized blackboard, Lindsey’s room serves as the main classroom.

“I call good teacher!” one of them announces. “I’m always the bad teacher,” another grouses.

Later, while conducting my own Bill and Melinda Gates Project at the kitchen table, the girls flesh out their rubric for the measures of an effective teacher: He makes you want to listen to him. It’s not just reading from a book. You never feel dumb. He challenges you. He makes boring stuff fun. He keeps everyone under control.

Research from within the Gates Foundation revealed, “No school-based factor matters more for a student’s learning than having an effective teacher.” Buya!

After listening to classroom play-by-play from my daughters and observing uber teacher in action, I have come to liken a good teacher to a talented performer. After all, isn’t the ability to entertain a huge piece in the good teacher puzzle?

Day after day, these men and women are on stage before an audience of twenty-plus kids, striving to engage each of them, looking for connections. A good teacher endeavors to reach not just the student who has developed a genuine love of learning, but also the child who has developed a certifiable catatonic stupor.

Doing whatever it takes. Or not. It can’t be easy, that’s for sure.

Most of us have met with – or as our kids get older, it’s more likely you’ve traded emails with – teachers for whom it’s not easy at all. Many of us have done our share of criticizing them, too.

In fact, it was complaining about a teacher six years ago that became the catalyst for my own teaching debut. After volunteering to help out during a session of religious education, I was less than impressed with the quality of instruction. Each night after class, I would throw out a comment along those lines to my husband. Finally, instead of just absorbing my critiques of this teacher (like husbands are supposed to), he offered up a suggestion of his own.

“Maybe you should give it a try.” That fall, it was me standing before an audience of twenty-two second graders: striving to engage them; looking for connections; trying to do what the good teachers do—perform my heart out.

Now summer reading projects are just about finished, we’ve embarked on more than one educational field trip, and even spent some time reviewing math facts.

My youngest anxiously awaits the teacher assignment letter in the mailbox. In a few short weeks, our kids will sit in classrooms, members of a captive audience for another nine months. And what can parents do? Hope and pray that this year’s cast of teachers has read their rubrics.

And that they’ll do whatever it takes to put on a good show.

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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