• J Flewelling

What Makes a Great Teacher?

Updated: Sep 25, 2018

A friend recently posed this question of me without realizing that it has haunted me since I was announced Indiana's Teacher of the Year almost exactly a year ago.

What does make a great teacher?

At first I thought, "Well, they have to teach physics. Or at the very least teach something STEM related." I mean those are the only real subjects out there. Of course physics is the realist of subjects… (Is that a word? I guess it already is; I just verbed it.) However, as I looked across my building, I saw so many other incredible teachers that taught such things as Social Studies (shiver) or English (full body shiver). So, I reluctantly confronted my bias and pride and admitted that the subject really had nothing to do with being a great teacher.

My next hypothesis was that a great teacher must be like every other teacher. I mean after all, there is power in uniformity, right? Don't our administrators evaluate us all the time on "what we should be doing?" Therefore, shouldn't we all be doing the same thing? But something about this didn't sit right either. Kind of like saying all steaks should be well done. I mean who does that anyway?

One day while sitting in my PLC group, a group that I might add is just awesome, we were awesomely talking about how we had awesomely taught a certain topic. One of them said, "I did such and such…" and I thought, "That's awesome! Maybe I'll try that tomorrow." Then the other one said, "I taught it this way…" And I said, "Wow! I taught it a totally different way than either of you!" And yet, our outcomes were off the charts, and all our students went on to become rocket scientists. Ok, maybe not all of them. So, great teachers can't simply be defined by doing everything the same. Three teachers, three different ways to a mean. I had to embrace the idea that great teachers don't come in any one size, shape, color, personality, etc. They're all different, just like the students that walk into our classrooms. There is a richness in our diversity too.

[Insert huge sigh here.] Well. If it isn't the subject, and it isn't the style, what in the world could it be? Throughout the year as I've interacted with the other State Teachers of the Year, I've noticed so many times when we would be having a normal conversation and all of the sudden, they would explode. Not literally explode, but conversationally explode. Sort of like throw up all over you, only in a good way. They, we, just couldn't hold back our thoughts and ideas on certain topics. I tried desperately to figure out what each of these episodes had in common. Was it what I was wearing? No. Was it the food, or drink, we ate? No. Was it whether or not Trump tweeted? No! Well, sometimes...


One sleepless night, the realization dawned on me. Kind of like how the shower slowly runs out of hot water and all the sudden you're standing there naked and freezing. [Yea. I'm trying to get that image out of my head my head too.] These people were passionate. Passionate about their subjects, passionate about improving, but mostly passionate about their students!

And so, in answer to my friend's question, and a sleepless night, and maybe a cold shower or two, my family and I produced a short video to help describe great teachers.


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