Browsing my high school’s Web site, I smiled to find this quote from Ross Thomas—my senior English teacher, basketball coach and college counselor. Learning from Ross was a joy. His enthusiasm, insight into human nature, storytelling and good-natured wit starred in every lesson. Under his guidance I interpreted Shakespeare, practiced low-post moves and polished college application essays.
At graduation we both expressed how much we’d miss daily interaction in class and on the basketball court. Departing for college, I’d only begun to realize the value of his influence in my life. Forming sincere, personal bonds of respect with a teacher can maximize your classroom experience and life thereafter.
The first obvious benefits of strong student-teacher relationships appear in class. We all tend to make greater efforts for people we like. Throughout life, I’ve worked the hardest for my favorite teachers. Because I admired Ross, I naturally paid more attention in his class, asked more thoughtful questions and devoted more energy to assignments.
I also expected class to be valuable. Just as students often improve to meet a teacher’s standards, I believe teachers will also rise to fulfill student expectations on the high school and even the college level. Many college professors shoulder research and publishing responsibilities. These can easily detract from class preparation. But motivated, engaging students can help teachers maintain balance. The better a teacher knows his or her students, the better able he or she becomes to customize examples and activities. Relevant material can mark the difference between a pivotal class and a waste of time. Other students will likely benefit from a teacher’s heightened efforts as well.
Consider why people pursue careers in teaching. It’s seldom to become rich. Though exceptions come to mind, many hold a genuine desire to inspire student growth. Why not keep their dream alive? Get to know them and take advantage of their support to accomplish your goals.
Respect versus “kissing up”
Teachers, like all of us, tend to give greater respect to the ideas and work of those who respect them. This proves of particular advantage when essays—or anything less objective than bubble tests—determine grades. This said, let’s consider the insincere actions and flattery that are sometimes called “kissing-up.”
What do you think of people whose kindness appears selfishly motivated rather than sincere? How hard is it to identify? Chances are your teachers also find hypocrisy repulsive and easy to spot. It’s better to remain anonymous than act deceitfully.
Long after classes are over and grades are given, a teacher may provide valuable referrals or recommendations. Unforeseen events prompted me to leave my first college after two years. I returned home expecting to take a year off in which to search for a new school, apply and work to save money. My relationship with Ross opened up other options.
In just 12 weeks, Ross helped me find a wonderful new school, gain admittance, receive credit for all of my previous classes and several scholarships to boot! It is generally much more difficult to receive merit and need-based financial aid as a junior transfer than as a freshman. While I believe God blessed the entire process, I see that He did so through Ross’s efforts.
If you intend to apply to college or for work, you will probably need a reference. Colleges frequently request recommendations from several people, including a high school teacher, when students apply for admittance or scholarships. Companies also expect job applicants to supply references. How many of your teachers know you well enough to describe your strengths and aptitudes to a potential employer or college? Are you close enough to them to feel comfortable asking?
Preparation to teach
Finally, getting to know a teacher personally helps prepare the student to teach. Five years after high school, I coached my first teen basketball team. I thought back to Ross’s example innumerable times as I chose drills for practice, mapped plays and considered how to reach the players individually.
Before our State Finals games my junior and senior years, Ross told our nervous team to have fun, remember everyone rooting for us and to put on a show (the best we possibly could, of course). The team I coached was nervous before a lot of games too—not because they were championships, but because many of our girls were playing ball for their first season. I found Ross’s theme a great approach to give my team courage, too.
Teaching isn’t isolated to those who officially tutor, coach or instruct classes. You’ve undoubtedly taught friends and family about your likes and dislikes. Have you shown a child how to play a game or build a fort? Perhaps trained a new employee at work? Or explained to someone why you observe the Sabbath?
In the future, you may educate a mate about your needs and desires. Do you plan to raise children who understand appropriate behavior? Do you intend to teach God’s laws in the coming Kingdom of God? Are you already modeling them today? We’re all teachers to one degree or another. Prepare for increasing future responsibility through interaction with effective teachers today.
A German proverb advises, “Whoever cares to learn will always find a teacher.” Don’t stop at finding a teacher. Develop a relationship to produce intellectual sparks and lightning—and fan those flames for the benefit of yourself, classmates, the instructor and all whom you will eventually teach. YU