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Photo Credit: Matthew Henry, Burst Images

I attended the Miami Book Fair years ago where I took a workshop in fiction writing.  Our teacher, Colin Channer, opened my eyes to the qualities and dynamics of what makes a teacher truly exceptional, and I am inspired to share those observations.

1. For starters, a great teacher is truly enthusiastic about what they are teaching. Their joy is infectious and contagious. Colin’s enthusiastic examples made us really want to jump in and do the assignments.

2.   There is a focus, not on how much information can be given but on how a few key concepts can be imparted, then practiced and, hopefully, realized by the student.

For example, we were shown how a story is simply a number of scenes. From this perspective, a short story might consist of an opening scene, three or four intermediate scenes, and a closing scene.  By seeing the larger context, we could then embrace the next idea — that each scene contained a physical environment, character descriptions, and a narrative. Understanding the nature of a scene thus enriched the story telling.

Each sentence must be designed to move the story forward. To drive that last point home we were asked to break off into small groups and describe the opening scene we had created. The members could then ask questions or suggest ways in which the character’s flaws, for example, could be used to create other possibly more interesting scenarios. By so doing we learned the benefit of seeing our character through a variety of lenses. This was actually quite fun. It could be a great parlor game.

3.  Great teachers provide encouragement through the learning process. Each person knows they will have to account for their participation, but will be recognized for anything they have attempted.  Seeing the standard others are achieving is a more compelling incentive than being embarrassed or humiliated.

4.  The teacher will make a connection with each student by acknowledging their name, or with a gesture of any kind, which shows that it is an inclusive atmosphere. The teacher feels appreciation ahead of time for their students and the potential they represent.  This sense of inclusiveness is felt by all present, and it strengthens the bond between teacher and students.

5.  The great teacher makes learning fun for the student. This may be the hardest, but the goal is to design exercises or tasks which create desire on the part of the student. The end result can be a revelation. For example, we were asked to stalk a person for fifteen minutes and make up a story about them. Somehow, the process of finding a person and following them acted like a catalyst, and enhanced the creative process.

I am sure there are many more attributes, but certainly these are five outstanding qualities.  Thank you, Colin!  As we pass through life we might take time to appreciate good teachers, and even recognize that every one of us is a teacher of something.

– Sanderson Sims, February 2020