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Great Teachers

By Amy Edwards

“A teacher’s job was not to drag a student along a single, well-worn path. Rather it was to let the student forge his or her own way through the forest, intervening only when the student was hopelessly lost and needed to be corrected. Even on the wrong paths, he knew, lay some wisdom.” (Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Sean Williams).

In many of our schools today, students are drug or pushed along. Students sit in classrooms, segregated primarily by biological age, and then by academic performance. State Standards and Standardized Tests dictate curriculum and methodologies, without regard for individuality. Parents and teachers conform, because they believe that their success and their students’ aptitude can and should be measured by these standards.

Great teachers understand that relationships must come first. Great teaching is about connecting with the genius within every student. Plato wrote that all knowledge is already deeply within us. Great teaching is about drawing out that knowledge, strengthening both the strengths and weaknesses of students, and uncovering each individual’s divine purpose.

Many supporters of prevailing educational models claim that the current methods are necessary to efficiently and effectively educate the vast numbers of students. They spend large amounts of money and time addressing discipline issues and enforcing truancy laws. I believe that if each student were encouraged to explore areas of interest and deep, personal meaning, and facilitated according to his or her own learning style, then teachers would struggle less with keeping students present and engaged.

Perhaps teachers and parents are afraid of allowing students to “forge [their] own way through the forest”, even though our country was founded on this principle. Our Founding Fathers forged their own way by developing a system of government never before attempted (Making of America, Skousen). These great men had faith in the basic goodness of humanity, and sacrificed to create a society that fostered freedom. But we have lost that faith when it comes to the education of our children. We fail to look for and thus find the individual greatness in every student.

Great teachers understand that everyone has something to contribute. They are, themselves, forever students, reading broadly and deeply in classics from all areas. “Every one of us is both a student and a teacher. We are at our best when we each teach ourselves what we need to learn.” (The One Minute Teacher, Johnson) The genius is within every student.

The teacher with strong faith in human goodness will be capable of truly mentoring each student on his or her own path. Great teachers search for the greatness in their students and view the learning as reciprocal. They love to teach, because they love to learn, not simply  to be esteemed for their wisdom.

The principles of great teaching are not restricted to those with an allegiance to good. The character quoted at the beginning is Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, a faithful follower of the dark side. There are many who understand this method and have and will use it for destructive purposes. As C.S. Lewis wisely pointed out, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil."

It is time for those with an allegiance to good to use these principles to educate future leaders and citizens who will in turn promote good. The power is within each of us. Let us be the great teacher who is inside of us.