Great Teachers Never/Always Change

According to Gertrude Stein, a rose “is.” According to guest blogger, Steve Lash, great #TeachingIs too.

Guest blogger, Steve Lash, shares his thoughts on what #teachingis

I was lucky to have many great teachers.

Linda Nielsen, my Russian teacher for almost every year grades 7 to 12, was one of them.  Without her, my insulated perspective would not have been shaken to the core through two visits to the Soviet Union.  In her class, we worked collaboratively, prepared skits, and studied the language through as many “real world” activities as could be found in the 1980s.

Keith Mead, my 9th grade English teacher, invited us to write independent journals at the start of each class, and responded to all students personally.  That year, he encouraged me to join our school’s Newspaper staff as Assistant Editor, where he continued to help me find my voice as a writer.

Bill Peterson, my 8th and 10th grade Science teacher, showed us the crazy world of biology with deadpan humor and boundless energy as he guided us through experiments, ending each week with a game of Jeopardy.

Great teachers are great teachers are great teachers are great teachers.

This idea, an homage to Gertrude Stein’s famous line, “rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” has increasingly become my credo in the face of an ever-changing educational landscape. 

A pioneer of the new Modernism, Stein was fascinated with the likes of Picasso, and she hoped to evoke emotions similar to Cubism in her writing.  The idea that multiple facets could be looked at simultaneously, perhaps understood differently, alter a rose’s meaning while capturing its immutable essence.  As with many complex ideas, over time, the “rose” quote has been re-understood to state that an object simply is.

I find that both definitions ring true in education.  Great teachers from any age would still be great in today’s schools.  They transcend myriad changes in standards, grading, and pedagogy.  At their core:  love of content, love for kids, and a desire to bring the two together creatively.  These are the teachers each of us remembers vividly.

Yet the “cubist” idea of Stein’s line rings true as well.  Great teaching, like the many phases of a rose’s beauty, is about change.  We innovate last year’s ideas because after reflection, we realize they can improve—that we can improve.

Edward Pajak’s Honoring Diverse Teaching Styles illustrates four primary teaching traits:  inventing, knowing, caring, and inspiring.  He postulates that each teacher is a unique blend of these traits. A great school has teachers who favor each type; we are best because we are different.

And ultimately, no matter how much time and energy is given to standardizing our craft, we teach with our own individual flair.  I have observed the exact same lesson in two math classes being taught in noticeably different ways, with equal effectiveness.  Just as Stein observed a new reality in the rose with each repetition, so do we with the craft of teaching.

Each teacher has greatness within. It is the responsibility of each of us to celebrate and cultivate our strengths.

Steve Lash has taught English for eighteen years at Horizon High School in Thornton, Colorado.  He values student leadership and involvement, and has sponsored Student Government, Link Crew, and several other clubs. He has served as an Instructional Leader, coach, and Induction advisor.

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