As I have mentioned, I was involved with two panel discussions recently at the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association. At one point, I was asked about the best teaching advice that I ever received.
Over a 44 year period, everyone hears a lot of good teaching advice (and some bad advice also). Deciding which advice is best can be a challenge.
But, my mind always goes back to something my boss told me during the first year I was teaching. The advice came at a time when I was struggling to figure out who I wanted to be as a teacher. Those first few years are so important because they form the structure on which a teacher builds an entire career.
One day the head of the business program was talking with me about teaching. He looked at me and said “If you truly care about these students, you will push them as hard as you can to be great.” There was a lot that I liked about that sentence in 1972. There is a lot that I like about it today. I think it has probably influenced me more than any other advice I’ve heard or read. One thing that I liked best was that he spoke the words as the absolute truth and not just as some clever fortune cookie type mantra. He believed 100 percent in the importance of what he was saying
--Everything starts with the need for me as the teacher to care about my students as people. It is easy to think about students as a group (my 9:00 class or my 10:30 class) rather than as individuals. Too often, we describe such groups in negative ways. They are annoying. They are lazy. They are frustrating. They fail to think. They fail to prepare. But students are unique individuals with their own hopes, dreams, weaknesses, and aspirations. It is not important for me to like my students but it is important for me to care about them. Walk into your next class and look at your students as distinct human beings. They are not part of the furniture. They are people. Don’t waste so much time judging them. Simply realize that they are human and, whether they know it or not, they need your help as their teacher. As Mother Teresa said, “if you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
--I need to push my students as hard as I can. I know it is redundant to say but students are human beings. They often lack motivation. They procrastinate. Their ambitions have not been well nurtured. They have not been well trained as students. Many of them have no idea how to succeed. Many will underachieve in school and then become convinced that mediocre is the best they can be. The teacher needs to open their eyes to what great things they are capable of achieving and then be willing to push them to hit those goals. In most cases, success only comes from hard (but also efficient) work. I would love to boast that all my students are self-disciplined and self-motivated. But that is not the way of the world. Most people need help. They need to be pushed. They need to be challenged. Grade inflation has come about because teachers do not want to bother pushing students to do outstanding work. Our world is struggling at the moment because too many people leave college believing that “good enough is good enough.” Push your C students to make a B. Push your B students to make an A. Push your A students to make an A+. Each step is a triumph that you and the student can share.
--Don’t be satisfied if your students get good grades. Education is more than grades. Push them to be great. Our world, as I have said, has numerous problems. We need many more graduates leaving college with great educations, great ideas, great innovations, great ambitions. Don’t look at your students and see them as they are. Look at them as they might be able to become if you push them hard enough. See the potential within them and then do your best to help them reach it.
Three thoughts that make a world of difference
--Care for your students as people.
--Push each one as hard as you can.
--Help them find greatness, a greatness that can make our world better.
Teachers really do have the potential to save the world.