Teaching is not for everyone.
It is not, of course, for those who are violent people, molesters, psychopaths, sociopaths, and drug dealers.
But, it is also not for people who have several of these qualities: impatient, easily angered, lacking in empathy, willing to bully or embarrass, uncaring, crass, callous, emotionally disconnected, overly strict, overly permissive or acidic.
There are a lot of different kinds of people who are teachers now, and they have all sorts of reasons for getting into education – and many of them are neither noble nor profane. However, teaching takes a special kind of person. Sure, you need to know your subject matter well, and you need to understand different ways to evaluate and test, different teaching styles and methodologies, teaching tools, psychology, how the brain and body work, and so on, but it’s more than that. If we want to advance humanity as a whole, we need to get much more selective on the candidates we consider as teachers. We need to become more careful, choosing people who are intensely committed, passionate and creative. Mediocrity will only lead to more mediocrity.
The Finnish people understand this. Every candidate teacher goes through a selection process after getting their education degree but before they’re allowed to take the rest of the training to become a teacher. If they fail the interview process, they do not get to be teachers.
So, what do you need to be a teacher? Other than the obvious mastery of your subject matter:
-have and affirm high standards and expectations.
-passionate commitment, because this isn’t a vocation – it is an avocation, something you love to do and are committed to.
-a sincere desire to help students, because if you don’t want to help your students, you aren’t a teacher. Without students, you don’t have a job, but without teachers, students can still learn!
-patience, because you have to have enough patience to fill the Grand Canyon when dealing with so many different types of people.
-love of the world, because you cannot teach properly about the world if you don’t want to help make it a better place.
-empathy, because you need to be able to put yourself into the position of each student so you can understand their behavior and build a strong, healthy relationship with them.
-tolerance, because intolerance is a poison that destroys entire nations and maybe someday the world.
-temperance, because temperance of emotions sets the example for all and temperance of behavior keeps you out of trouble and gives them yet another example and because extreme attitudes breed hatred, not love. Emotional maturity is a key to success.
-servitude, because being a teacher isn’t supposed to be about your ego or your status – it’s about facilitating students and, through them, making the world a better place.
-observational accuracy, because you have to be able to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses and be able to help and grade them without just relying on homework and tests.
-warmth, because many students don’t experience enough of it at home or in their neighborhoods.
-honest and genuine, because you are their example of good behavior and they will not respect you if they discover that you lie or see you as being fake.
-respectful, because they deserve to experience respect so they can become the best under your tutelage. They may not get respect at home, so it must be learned elsewhere that it is not what they think.
-loving, because teaching is, at its core, all about love, and the love of your students is such an amazing thing that you can work miracles through it.
-fair, because when you are unfair in the application of rules and grading, they know you’re a hypocrite and won’t respect or trust you.
-trustworthy, because without trust, there can be no genuine relationship with them, no respect, no real love.
-moderation, because the extremes of behavior (be it opinions, eating or activities) are usually not good for physical, mental, relationship and/or financial health.
Teaching is not for everyone. It is only for very, very special people. Many teachers lack some of the qualities it takes to be a great teacher, yet are overall great teachers. There are, sadly, many others who lack several of the qualities and are just average (or worse). The difference between a great teacher and an average one has been measured – more material covered, greater breadth and depth, higher grades, more interest from students, etc. If you are aware that you are seriously lacking in these qualities, either change or get out of the profession. Change is ALWAYS an option and I believe that there are many average and even poor teachers who could, if they made the necessary changes, become great! If you think you have all these qualities, you might want to help change the world. No other profession has as much of an opportunity to make the world a better place.
Just to make it clear, I strongly urge anyone who is considering going into the avocation of education to not marry, or at least not have children. Your life will be full of your students’ needs, and that is like a VERY big family! 🙂 This is my personal feeling because I know that the 3 hardest jobs in the world are excellent parent, excellent spouse and excellent teacher. Trying to juggle all three is extremely challenging!