Reflective Renewal

finding meaning and inspiration in children's literature

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What makes a teacher effective?

October 20th, 2009 by christine · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

So, what qualities make a teacher effective?

As educators, this is a question we often ask ourselves, especially for inspiration. Let’s face it—at the end of the day, teaching is a very demanding, challenging profession, and we deserve opportunities to reflect on inspirational teachers and teaching stories that provide us with those rays of inspiration that get us through the next days and weeks.

For those of you who may already know me and/or have taken a class with me, you know that I begin every college class I teach with inspirational teacher stories that remind us of why we do what we do. Every semester, my students and I reflect on what qualities and personal attributes make teachers effective. As several of you already know, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes is one of my all-time favorite children’s picture books, and I read it during the first class of every course I teach. It is the perfect “1st day of school” book because it is a unique celebration of childhood exuberance, the joys of learning, and the smooth disposition of Lilly’s teacher, Mr. Slinger.

And, most of all, she loved her teacher, Mr. Slinger.

Mr. Slinger was a sharp as a tack.
He wore artistic shirts.
He wore glasses on a chain around his neck.
And he wore a different colored tie for each day of the week.

LillyI, too, love Mr. Slinger, for a host of reasons. First of all, I love that Henkes made the teacher a male, rather than the stereotypical female elementary school teacher. Mr. Slinger has a commanding, respectful, yet loving relationship with the children—a difficult balance to strike, indeed. He both disciplines and cares consistently. Lilly’s classroom is a dream classroom space, thanks to Mr. Slinger’s clever design. He uses innovative language, methods, and set-ups with his students. Mr. Slinger even has a kidney-shaped table at the back of the classroom with all sorts of fun writing utensils available, with a sign above reading “The Lightbulb Lab—Where Great Ideas Are Born.” Who wouldn’t want their child in Mr. Slinger’s classroom?!

One of Mr. Slinger’s most admirable traits is that he takes nothing personally. Excellent teachers, who truly understand the developmental qualities of their students, know better than to take anything the children do or say personally. There is no room for ego in teaching. Mr. Slinger handles tricky childhood behaviors with grace, and keeps the focus on learning, all while holding the students accountable for their actions, their growing independence, and their learning.

“Wow,” said the entire class. That was just about all they could say. “Wow.”

To all of you out there reading—

What do you love about Mr. Slinger?
What other picture book teachers do you find inspirational?

What makes those teachers you’ve identified effective?

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nadine // Oct 20, 2009 at 11:31 AM

    This is not about the book but about a point made in the blog:
    We often say as teachers not to take anything personally, but in truth we only mean the bad stuff. For certainly when children or students of any age praise us we feel good about ourselves and like we’ve done something good or right. So isn’t it justifiable then, when students criticize us that we get a little upset- enough to make us reflect and decide if it was a personal attack or a justifiable complaint?
    Then, if it is a personal attack because the student is having a bad day, fine- as long as we remember the next time they smile at us that they’re just having a good day.

  • 2 christine // Oct 20, 2009 at 4:50 PM

    You make an excellent point. I do think, however, that you might respond slightly differently if you get a chance to read the book, though. I don’t think we should take anything personally that the students say– that is, not in ways that affect the ego, whether it’s positive or negative. There’s always room for improvement, sure. But, it’s another thing to allow compliments or criticisms to alter our self-concept. I think it’s our job to remain strong and neutral– balanced. Although it’s very difficult, it’s important to not allow our heads or our egos to be inflated or deflated by compliments and critiques. We just learn and move on… it has nothing to do with us personally.

  • 3 lauree // Oct 20, 2009 at 5:18 PM

    Thanks Nadine!

    I think I’ll call Christine “Zen Master.” Just kidding. She’s right that we should take ego out of it and focus on the work we’re doing.

    That’s easier said than done, in my experience.

    What works for me is to consider where the comment is coming from before choosing whether to take it on. And importantly, to look at my reaction to what’s been said, which has much more to tell me than the words themselves.

    Is it an emotional response from the student, what Nadine called a bad day? Is it useful information I can incorporate into my lessons?
    Am I hearing it this way because of where I am right now?

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