One Man’s Opinion of What Makes a Good Teacher

I found this article today in the Chicago Tribune written a week or so ago by Cory Franklin who was motivated to write a piece on teachers when he received word that one of his favorite history teachers had passed away. The opinion piece at first led me in a completely incorrect direction. Mr. Franklin starts off by discussing the old teacher’s methodology that was dry and pragmatic approach that I vaguely remember in my history classes years ago. But Franklin then starts noting those “hidden” strengths of a good teacher, “hidden passion for teaching history,” he says.

After another paragraph or two of evaluation Franklin noted that it was during the Vietnam War when he was in this teachers classroom: “This all occurred during the height of the Vietnam War and despite the teach-ins, sit-ins and anti-war rallies just outside his room, he never acknowledged them.” Apparently, this teacher was not one of the “cool” teachers who openly discussed the events going on around them and the political viewpoints.

Years later Cory Franklin, then a newspaper writer as he is now, was contact by this teacher after a column he had written. They had a good conversation and stayed in touch from that time.

Franklin then gets to the real heart of what makes a good teacher:

I asked about the Vietnam War, why he studiously avoided mentioning it in class. I told him many students were disappointed he didn’t express his opinions, or more accurately, the opinions we wanted him to have. He was, in fact, quite erudite about Vietnam. But he felt it wasn’t his job to insert his political views into a class teaching a coherent story of American history, not contemporary events. It would inflame passions unnecessarily and could only get in the way of what students should be learning. Anyway, who could say at that point how history would judge those contemporary events? Better to let the whole thing gain perspective. Those interested would learn the facts and lessons in due time.

Well said as I have had to debate this before.

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2 Responses to One Man’s Opinion of What Makes a Good Teacher

  1. klkatz says:

    I might argue that he missed a “teachable moment” – but I agree that sometimes a teacher’s views are better left to themselves… I often try to play devil’s advocate from both sides… I’ve found myself defending a side I didn’t agree with just to get the kids to think… and then jumping to the other side to provoke more thought…. I often have to explain to the class that my opinion doesn’t matter and my voicing my opinion would only help to skew theirs… there’s a great book on the topic called ‘Democracy in the Classroom’ – this discusses how to have conversations in your class, how to make sure everyone participates (even those that don’t like to talk) and how to get the students to listen, debate and deliberate… as opposed to simply sharing opinions.

  2. Chris says:

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you, in a perfect situation a good teacher can do that. Chris

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