My Favorite Teacher - Mr. T.

by Dr. Jill Klefstad - UW Stout

[MenTeach: Dr. Jill has been working to increase and retain men in her education program. We asked her to write about her experiences as a woman facilitator. You can find the other articles here.]

From my first year as a student in school to now, as an adult educator, I find myself referring to some teachers as “my favorites”.  Currently with my work involving pre-service students and cooperating teachers in the field, there are those teachers who I favor.  Certainly we have all had at least one favorite teacher in our years of being in school but what exactly makes any teacher ‘a favorite’? Specifically, what dispositions and characteristics do some teachers posses that make them  ‘one’s favorite’?  

Overall, a favorite teacher can be described as a teacher who is successful and effective in the classroom. The literature also agrees that an effective teacher can be recognized on two levels: for the professional skills they possess (subject matter knowledge, teaching styles and multiple approaches to teaching) and for their personal teacher skills (enthusiastic, humorous, friendly).  Is it feasible then to say that at the heart of an effective teacher are the qualities of their mind and character?

Research has identified various dispositions of effective teachers (Colker, 2008; Mowrer-Reynolds, 2008;  Orlando, 2013;  Veland, 2013).  From that information I have compiled my own list of about twenty-two dispositions that I feel my favorite teachers exhibit.  Some of these dispositions include: enthusiasm, optimism, fairness, flexibility, tolerance, sincerity, adventurous, energetic, resourcefulness, etc. These characteristics seem to appear in the teacher’s style of teaching and in their interactions with students.  As a teacher I can undoubtedly say that I display some of these dispositions in my teaching.  However, I am curious as to how these dispositions may vary between male and female teachers of young children.  

One of the finest early childhood teachers I have ever known is also a cooperating teacher for our pre-service students.  This teacher is the only K-3rd grade male teacher in the district. A male teacher is certainly a benefit for young children to have the masculine role model but the male teacher is also an asset to the teaching staff.  To his first graders, and to our pre-service students, he is known as Mr. T.  What makes Mr. T my favorite teacher? Perhaps it is the indescribable feeling I get when I walk into his classroom. I immediately feel as if I have entered a magical place where my spirits are lifted as I watch his classroom of young children come alive. It is impossible to be within Mr. T’s classroom and not smile as I observe the interactions between him and the children.  

It is evident that Mr. T. can be considered a highly effective teacher because of his level of professional knowledge (meaning he knows and understands pedagogy for young children’s learning) but it is more so his personal teacher skills, or dispositions that set him apart.  Although Mr. T exhibits many of the dispositions from the list above, the following characteristics seem to set him apart from other educators, including myself.  

One of Mr. T’s greatest dispositions is humbleness thus, any type of attention given to Mr. T in recognition of his teaching or personal skills is quickly diverted to children and their learning.   In response to any acknowledgment, Mr. T speaks how children are positively impacted which is his ultimate goal as a teacher.

Another one of Mr. T’s characteristics that has repeatedly captured my attention is his sense of humor and wit.  Humor is a tool Mr. T uses to diffuse tense situations with children, but he also uses it to make connections with students. I have seen Mr. T. use humor even when it is obvious he is struggling with how to teach a concept to a child, one on one and definitely as a tool to manage the classroom. The sound of laughter and the respectful banter between students and Mr. T resonates within the walls of his classroom into the hearts of the students he teaches.

A teacher recognizes the importance of being impartial and treating all children equally and yet we know how challenging that can be, at times. In Mr. T’s room, I see the effort he takes in creating an impartial learning environment, not favoring boys or girls.  He makes cognizant choices when calling on students being sure he calls on a boy and then a girl and encourages students to do the same.

Lastly, the characteristic that captures the essence of Mr. T. is authenticity, meaning he knows who he is and what he stands for as a teacher of young children. Mr. T. provides children with the knowledge and tools for learning and self-confidence. The teaching strategies he uses range from playing guitar and singing, to reciting a poem of the month, to bringing in pumpkins to teach hard math concepts, to redesigning the environment of the classroom.

While many teachers utilize some of these same teaching strategies, it is the level of integrity and conviction Mr. T demonstrates to children and to the teaching profession that earns him the title of  “favorite teacher”.

Colker, L. J. (2008). Twelve Characteristics of Effective Early Childhood Teachers. YC: Young Children, 63(2), 68-73.

Meador, D. (n.d.). The most essential qualities of a good teacher. Retrieved from http://teaching.about.com/od/Information-For-Teachers/a/Twenty-five-Essential-Qualities-Of-A-Good-Teacher.htm

Mowrer-Reynolds, E. (2008). Pre-service educator’s perceptions of exemplary teachers. College Student Journal, 42(1), 214-224.

Orlando, M. (2013, January 14). Nine characteristics of a great teacher. Retrieved from Faculty Focus website: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/philosophy-of-teaching/nine-characteristics-of-a-great-teacher/

Veland, T.D. (2012). A study of leadership dispositions of transformational leaders in Georgia high school. Electronic Theses & Dissertations. Paper 814. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1818&context=etd