Everyone has had two kinds of teachers. Some you never remember. Then, there are those you never forget.

Everyone has a list of the second. (It is usually a short list.)

What makes the difference between the two?

We assume we know what teaching is. While I have my share of teachers, my mother taught, and my two daughters teach.

We assume teaching is the impartation of information from the teacher to the student. The teacher teaches. The student learns.

Is that what makes an effective teacher? Great information? Great delivery?

The old definition of a lecture is information that travels from the notes of the teacher into the notes of the student without passing through the brain of either one.

Teachers pour information onto the clamped-shut minds of students. Tests get graded. Standardized test scores determine school ranking. School boards grant superintendents bonuses or hand our pink slips.

Is that teaching? How much do you remember from the teachers who taught you?

I don’t remember much information, but I do remember teachers. Here are four.

  • Mrs. Freshley was my third-grade teacher in Santa Fe, NM. Hollywood could have cast her into the role of the school teacher. Mrs. Freshley introduced me to current events. Our weekly Wednesday assignment was to look for news in newspapers (forgive me, I’m old!). I remember presenting reports of Cassius Clay’s (later Muhammed Ali) thrashing of Sonny Liston and the very much alive Jimmy Hoffa sentenced to prison.
  • Mrs. Hurt was my 4th grade English teacher. She was flamboyant, many times wearing a beret to class. With her snowy hair and wrinkled face, she taught me better handwriting. (Alas, college note-taking extinguished it, but I can still go back to readable cursive.) Another skill I learned was how to write an effective business letter. It opened the world to me.
  • Mrs. Moroni taught English literature at J. J. Pearce High School in Richardson, TX. The day she put a paper cup with a cotton ball soaked in something I learned to write. With that strange object, her instructions were simple. Sniff it and fill a page with the description of the aroma. No one could name it, only describe it. (It was a cotton ball soaked in beer.) That’s the day I learned that specificity makes for effective prose. To this day, I smell beer-laced cotton when I put my fingers on a keyboard.
  • Dr. John T. Willis was my major professor at Abilene Christian University. Dr. Willis pulled back the curtain on the Old Testament, and especially the prophets. It set my mind in a direction this scared freshman never imagined. He encouraged, taught, and coached.

What velcro traits stuck them in my memory?

They cared if I learned…and I knew it. I sat through classes for credit, and no one cared if I received anything but a grade. Great teachers work from the heart and not the mind. Students know the difference and remember it.

They unlock a world of learning for their students. Classes never get remembered. The freed mind and unfettered world of learning never fades from life.

To this day,

  • I read the news, due to Mrs. Freshley.
  • I write dozens of letters each week, thanks to Mrs. Hurt.
  • I am writing this…in gratitude to Mrs. Moroni.
  • I teach two classes in the Old Testament based on the thrust of Dr. Willis.

What makes a great teacher?

All teach great information. But the great teachers teach learning. They live on through their students who use the lessons learned in their classrooms.

Which teachers are on your list?