Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What makes a great educator? Pt.1

Just to be clear this is NOT an article about ME as an educator. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than talking about myself, or listening to someone else talking about themselves for an extended period of rest assured that is not happening here. Nor is this a ploy to give myself some gold stars and get you to sign up for our workshops (Haha, can you imagine? I'd be thinking "nice marketing, but what an asshole"). The purpose of this article is to spotlight the difference between a good educator a great one, who we become attracted to versus who offers long term learning benefits. I would like to tell you about some of the great educators in my life, and what they did that really resonated with me, helping to form me into the artist and mentor I am today. I definitely assimilated a lot of these amazing attributes into my style of teaching because of the powerful impact they had on me. The intention is to recognize in yourself what educators are best for you, so you can choose appropriate education for yourself and learn how you can use it to be a teacher in your own area of expertise.

To give you an understanding as to why this subject is so important to me (aside from the obvious...duh, I'm an educator), I'll give you a brief background of my struggle with learning. I'm gonna have to talk about myself...ick...but it helps to make a point, so bare with me.

We have all heard of ADHD, yes? Of course you have, nowadays people diagnose it like they diagnose the flu. But I was "for reals"  diagnosed with ADHD when I was 7 years old, medicated, and went to therapy before anyone even knew what the disorder was. I still have it today, minus the hyperactivity, therapy, and no longer need to be medicated. The disorder involves an imbalance of neurotransmitters that can cause hyperactivity and concentration problems. This means I have a lot of trouble focusing and staying organized. Being a child with ADHD prior to anyone really understanding it or how to deal with it in educational settings, I was commonly viewed as having a behavioral problem. In addition to being the problem child of the class, I was an enigma in that I had a 120 IQ but my academic performance could not surpass a C+. I had problems absorbing the material the way it was taught, but if I could absorb it I grasped the material better than most in my class. Breaking through these obstacles would take two very important factors: a fierce will to not give up on myself, and amazing teachers.

The teachers that made an impact on me needed to go above and beyond using the characteristics, values, and virtues that would be important to anyone desiring a great education. I'm going to pinpoint these traits for you, and tell you about the person who delivered it flawlessly:

Patience/meeting me where I'm at.
Part of the reason why I did so poorly in grade school was because teachers didn't take the time to investigate what I was dealing with. I couldn't sit still in my seat, and I could answer questions with A+ aptitude but testing and listening for directions barely gave me a D. It wasn't until I went into the 4th grade and met Mrs. Belkin that I not only realized I was smart, but capable of doing things like other children...we just had to find different ways of doing it. Mrs. Belkin almost never yelled at me where so many in the past had. She sat with me and had me read and solve problems separately from the other class mates. She asked me what my favorite subjects were, and put me in a special reading group with only 3 other kids. Later I found out this was a group for kids with accelerated reading skills. We were given more complex reading comprehension, but we read to each other in a smaller group for better focus. For the first time, outside of art classes, I got all A's and B's. It was because Mrs. Belkin took the time to investigate what type of learning model worked best for me, was patient with me, and met me where I was at rather than lumping me in with everyone else where I (and my potential) often got lost.

Break it down for me, one time
My 5th grade piano teacher, Ms. Giordano, also understood that I needed to learn differently. I could barely read notes let alone play while reading them. In addition, my ADHD came with extreme impatience and frustration. So, Ms. Giordano would break the process into parts for me and have me master one thing at a time. She would always tell me what I was going learn each day, and what I would get out of each lesson. Of course, I have now forgotten most of what I learned at age ten...but at the time I was playing Bach and Beethoven when at first I could only play Chopsticks. Now, when I see "educators" who "teach" by giving vague demos, assuming that just showing a look with their talent makes a good teacher, I get a little annoyed. If you don't break it down and explicate the process, the material isn't relatable. Only a small percentage of people will grasp just by watching, most walk away saying "That was amazing, but I'll never be able to do it". In that case the job of the "educator" was not done! If people don't walk away with a new approach or understanding of the material, what's the point?

Don't let me get away with shit
I learned early on it's okay to struggle. Struggle pushes you to think outside the box and use more of your brain to problem solve. It may come to a surprise to some that I used to get defeated very easily. If I couldn't figure something out I would start a pity party in my head that I couldn't learn the way others learned and I am doomed to not succeed because of my "curse". Dramatic, right? Thankfully there were a few teachers along the way would not let me get away with that shit. The true saviors didn't allow me to use a road block as an excuse, but wouldn't give me the answers either. The person who continues to do this for me today is my mentor, Gary. He never lets me get away with anything...which is why I continue to call him whenever I get stuck. He let's me be my quirky, creative, ADD self. When shit gets tough, he supports me with compassion, but pushes me to solve the problem. Everything is "figureoutable".

I have a few more stories of great educators to share in my next blog. I really want to convey the difference between good educators and great educators. We didn't get the chance to choose who taught us as children, but we do now, and I want you to understand what makes the best educator for you. Stay tuned for part 2!