Education Lab readers share what they remember about their favorite teachers and offer opinions on whether good teaching can be measured.
Education Lab recently asked readers a simple question: Who was your best teacher? But we went beyond asking respondents to simply name names and offered a couple of deliberate follow-up questions: What made your best teacher so memorable? Is it possible to measure good teaching?
The questionnaire was tied to a Feb. 22 story about how some early learning programs are using in-depth classroom observations in an effort to make teacher evaluations more objective and useful to educators.
Here is a sampling of the responses. Some have been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your best teacher. What are the attributes that made him or her so memorable?
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“My English teacher in 12th grade. She was blind. By the end of the first week she knew every student’s name by their voice. She loved her subject and had great enthusiasm and vigor for it. She loved teenagers. She was bold, calling on kids, expecting them to respond and to speak up so that she (and all of us) could hear their thoughts.
She had a huge sense of humor; in addition to this helping to make class fun, she used it to gently rib kids who needed prodding — without destroying them. She talked about her own disability and struggles openly and used these stories to encourage all of us to strive. She had strict rules and expectations for the quality of our work, made these clear from the get-go, stuck to them and didn’t let anyone get away with anything less.”
—Sheryl Huston, Seattle
“My eighth-grade math teacher. Every Friday he would use the class time to show us how all this horrible math from that week was used in the real world. He’d give real examples instead of just making us work problems 1-25. He would ask us for some of our experiences based upon his examples. Instead of us saying ‘When will I ever need to know this stuff?’ he showed us exactly when and why we would need to know this stuff.”
–Charlie Mitchell, Seattle
“My best teacher ever was Mr. Arlie Albeck, my fourth-grade teacher at Brighton Elementary Seattle in the 1960s. He had an incredible sense of humor and made us laugh while we learned. His heart was big, and his kindness flowed throughout the classroom. He put his all into his teaching. I don’t recall any specific books, curriculum, or tasks from that year, but I definitely prospered and became confident in myself as a learner. Up until that year, I had been quite shy and somewhat reserved. When I left fourth grade, I felt capable and accomplished as a learner.
On teacher appreciation day last year I thought about finding Mr. Albeck to thank him and after searching his name online, I found an obituary for him; he’d died the previous year. I wish I had reached out sooner.”
–Karleen Wolfe, Seattle
“My high school English teacher, the same for both junior and senior year, was amazing. He taught us how to understand not just literature, but ideas — how they are crafted, developed, and articulated. As a result, he was also the best teacher of writing I ever had. He showed how ideas and innovations must not only be logical and comprehensible, but also inspiring and compelling. His standards were high, but reasonable and attainable. It must be noted that he had a strong contempt of standardized testing.”
–Robert Cruickshank, Seattle
“One in elementary school, one in middle school, and one in high school. They were all teachers who had good senses of humor and did a great job of setting clear boundaries using humor and positive reinforcement — not shaming and blaming.
Actually, I had another in high school who was really ‘mean.’ We all thought he hated us, but when I suddenly found myself in a depression, he noticed and pulled me aside to ask me if I was OK. He was really gruff about it and clearly uncomfortable, but I owe him my life for that. He cared.”
–Barbara Chadwick, Kirkland
“No doubt about it, Bob Park was my best teacher ever. Sixth grade at Mercer Island’s Lakeridge Elementary School in the 1980s. With a hard shell and a soft heart, his stated mission was to get us ready for seventh grade. I was scared to death of him at first, as he talked about how much work that was going to take. But is wasn’t long before I realized how enthusiastic and caring he was as a teacher. He would even add a recess to some school days by taking us out to the playground for some extra fun time.
He changed me from having little desire to be not much more than an average student in to wanting to excel in school. I credit him to this day for changing my academic path. My own kids would be truly blessed to have a teacher like Bob Park. Last I knew, he still lived in Enumclaw, and I will always remember the white Datsun pickup he drove everyday to school. I guess I’m getting a bit nostalgic. Here’s to Bob Park!”
–Tom Baumgartner, Sammamish
Is it possible to measure good teaching?
“Having been a teacher myself early in my adult life (eight years at a high school in Japan), I realized that teaching is more of an art than a science. As with the students, teachers need to have high expectations set for them. I’m not confident that there is a scientific why to measure when a teacher is successful. But like good art, people know it when they see it.
I think that success is most noticeable when strong bonds develop between the students and teachers. For that to happen the teacher needs to care about the students and be invested in helping them discover themselves and find a way forward that they can dedicate themselves to. At the school I taught at in Japan, a junior and senior high school (7-12), they would assign the same team of teachers to the new seventh graders and that team would stay with those kids for six years until they graduated. In many cases, the bonds built in those six years ended up continuing for the rest of the teachers’ and students’ lives. How do you measure things like that?”
–Robert Perrin, Seattle
“I say put cameras in the classroom and randomly observe teacher instruction methods. I had good teachers but also had several that just skated by with doing the least amount of work they could get away with. Parents should be able to log in to the classroom to observe also. This would be beneficial for many reasons, including teachers being able to review their own methods and make necessary adjustments.”
–Rick Osberg, Olympia
“Yes, it is possible, but using test scores is not the answer because there are so many variables involved that are outside the teacher’s control. Observation is the best method.”
–John Downing, Auburn
“Different teachers are good with different kids. Some of my favorite teachers were not good for other kids. Some of the so-called best teachers didn’t work so well for me. Teaching and learning is highly personal and individual. We have to get over this idea that teachers are factory workers who can and should do every task the same way and produce the exact same result. And that students are products with each one achieving at the same level at the same time in response to the same teaching.”
–Mary Lindquist, Seattle