Writing by Bob Doto

How to Be a Good Teacher

After teaching in a variety of settings for the past twenty years (public education, college, punk warehouses, living rooms, online Zoom rooms, etc), I have come to believe that there are four core qualities a person must have in order to be a good teacher.

1. A teacher needs to have a comprehensive understanding of the subject and a passion for at least one hot take within that understanding.

In other words, a teacher needs to know what the varying positions are on a subject and why people hold these positions. At the same time, a teacher should also align (even strongly) with one of these positions, but must still be able to validate, articulate, affirm, and make space for other points of view.

2. A teacher should embrace not knowing

Contrary to popular belief, a teacher need not know everything about a subject or even be an expert on a subject. In fact, it's probably best if the teacher has holes in their knowledge. Not knowing—and being ok with that—is a great opportunity to show students your humanness and will, if you let it, humble you. Humility is an awesome asset to have as a teacher.

3. A teacher must be able to find a kernel of truth in what a student believes and situate that kernel of truth within the broader scope of the subject.

No matter how limited or far off a student's understanding of a subject is, there is always some aspect of either their knowledge base or their emotional relationship to the subject that can be integrated into the discussion. Even a student's unknowing, despondency, or resistance, even these can be turned into useful discourse. When a teacher is able to situate a student's current level of understanding or emotional response to a subject within the discussion, the teacher links that student to something greater, giving them a place to stand. Giving a student a place to exist makes you a good teacher.

4. A teacher must have great boundaries and the confidence and tact to state these boundaries when necessary.

You are the teacher. They are the student. The rest of the world can be your playground. Check your baggage and your desires at the door. Students will, more often than not, be into this.

#2022 #essays