What Makes the Ideal Teacher? Aspire to be the Best December 14 2011

In the second grade, my teacher loved to tell us about the dangers of smoking. He was a reformed smoker and loved his kids enough to remind us that little bit extra to play it safe and live our lives to the fullest. He was the teacher that stayed late to help students with their homework questions, gave licorice for good behavior, and hosted a baseball card club on Tuesdays.

There are plenty of teachers out there that have touched the lives of their students and are well-remembered for their efforts. There are also plenty of teachers who are generally disliked because of their attitudes, lack of knowledge on their subject, or are just burnt out. The image of the ideal teacher changes with each student, adult, and even other teachers. In reality, nobody's perfect, but teachers can always aspire to be better for their students and themselves.

In my experience, decent teachers are becoming harder to find as the years go by. I believe fewer teachers are stretching the minds of students and challenging them to learn. In fact, many teachers that I've taken classes with simply hand over a great grade and make it nearly impossible for students to fail, as long as each one shows up for the midterm and the final. This is not the ideal teacher for me. As Dr. Roger Roubal, a TMJ and sleep apnea dentist in Omaha says, "Education is important. You can't pay good teachers enough, and poor teachers ought to not be teaching."

So what makes the ideal teacher? The answer is different for everyone. Susan Van Druten, an English teacher from East High School, says a teacher must love, appreciate, and have patience with young minds, and that teachers must love to instruct and love to learn. Van Druten has been a high school teacher for quite a few years, and has seen teachers of all types come and go.

"Teaching is hard work, but I do think there are some characters out there who play the system and give other teachers a bad reputation," she said. "One out of 10 teachers are like this and usually wreak havoc with a long, unproductive career. Then there are well-meaning people who want to teach and don't have the aptitude. That might be 2 out of 10, but I think they are the ones who care enough to realize that it is the wrong profession and quit within 5 years. So maybe 8 out of 10 teachers possess those core attributes at any one time."

Evelyn Wiant, a senior English major at the University of Colorado, agrees with Van Druten.

"The ideal teacher has a real, true love for the subject they teach," she said. "Some of my favorite teachers have been those who can't hide their enthusiasm for English, math, science, art, or whatever their subject matter."

For many, truly decent teachers can be measured by the actions and attitudes they display while teaching. It is discouraging to students to have a teacher that demeans them, has no faith in them, or berates them in front of their peers.

"A great teacher shows by his actions and attitude that he has accepted the student at the level at which they came to him, but pushes his students to do more," Van Druten said. "Sometimes the push is small and eye-rollingly ridiculous and sometimes the push is more forceful."

There is also the question of whether a teacher should be popular or even loved by their students.

"The longer I teach the more I realize that being well-loved is more important than I originally thought," Van Druten said. "Some struggling students will do more for a teacher whom they see as soft and giving as opposed to a teacher who is tough and demanding. Many students of my generation - myself included - were inspired by teachers who were so tough that we were thrilled when they grudgingly gave us praise. It took me a decade and lots of introspection to become the teacher I am today."

Wiant has a different outlook on her ideal teacher based on her experiences as a current student.

"Good teachers are not always everybody's favorite," she said. "A teacher is an authority figure, not a friend to her students. They become beloved because they're inspiring, not because they're nice. A nice teacher is useless. A friendly, demanding teacher is priceless."

She also believes that the best teachers continuously evaluate themselves and that "good teachers are aware that each student learns differently and are willing and happy to make adjustments for different learning styles."

As a current teacher, Van Druten alternatively believes that the ideal teacher can not necessarily make those adjustments.

"A great teacher is not great to all students because not all students learn the same or have the same needs," she said. "A great teacher is great to the majority of her students and realizes that she cannot be a great teacher for all her students."

Everyone has different ideas of what the perfect or near-perfect teacher means to them. Dr. Roubal, who is neither a student nor a teacher, looks back on his teachers fondly, saying that they were all in general pretty nurturing.

"One time I went to a guidance counselor for advice and asked, 'What can I do? What should I do? What would you recommend?'," Roubal said. "At the time I thought what he said was kind of silly. He said, 'I think you can do whatever you want to do.' And at the time, I thought that was pretty lame but as I reflect back on that, it's true. You can do whatever you want to do. I think though that you have to have good role models and good mentors and be guided somewhat."

Though the ideal teacher may not exist, it is always a good idea for teachers to take a step back and review their attitudes and actions after a period of time. Any teacher can better themselves by tweaking their teaching styles or monitoring their treatment of their students. Students are expected to strive for greatness, and teachers can strive for the same.

Shanna Laub writes for Off-Topic Media. Special thanks to Dr. Roger Roubal for taking time to speak with us. Dr. Roubal is an Omaha dentist who treats migraines through TMJ therapy. Dr. Roubal can be reached at:

Advanced TMJ and Sleep Center
11919 Grant Street, Suite 140
Omaha, NE 68164-3475
(402) 493-4175