View Full Version : What makes a teacher great?

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10-10-2007, 10:41 AM
I have had occasion to be a teacher many times in my life. I have been a Sunday School teacher, a high school diploma program teacher, a computer skills teacher, and an aikido teacher. I have also had occasion to be a student many times in my life. Mike recently asked me who gave me permission to teach aikido, which gave me cause to reflect.
As I reflected back on the many teachers I have had in many different subjects and disciplines I began to think about what made some memorable and or effective as teachers. I realized that I have had three great teachers in my lifetime, other than my parents whom I deem above ‘ranking,' so I shall not dwell on them in this musing.
The first one was my 6th grade science teacher.
The second one was my Sunday School teacher when I was a young lad of 14.
The third one was my aikido teacher.
What did these teachers have that made them such great teachers? Was it there superior grasp of the subject matter? I don't think so. Not that they didn't have a much greater knowledge than me in their respective subjects. They certainly did. But that's not what made them so special and memorable to me. I'll try to focus on each one individually and see if I can put into words exactly what it was.
I don't remember much of what my 6th grade science teacher taught me but I do remember the way in which he taught. He was the first teacher to connect with me. He seemed to really care about us and our lives. He also had a very good sense of humor. He made class fun. Can you imagine? 6th grade science being fun? I was amazed.
Same for my Sunday School teacher. I don't remember but little bits and pieces of the subject matter, but I do remember him taking the Sunday School class on a pizza party where we played the jukebox, ate lots of pizza, laughed and conversed as if there was no tomorrow. He and his fiancée gave me and my friend a ride home that night in his Volkswagon bug. It was wintertime and he took it off road where we got stuck a couple times and had to get out and push. I was a pretty rebellious young lad so having me in Sunday School was not something that most people would enjoy. But he did. We would get roudy while he was teaching and he would just stop talking, and look at me solemnly, with eyes that would pierce into the depths of my soul. Soon the class would quiet down and he would begin teaching again. I served a mission for my church in large part because he inspired me to do so.
Later in my life I met my aikido teacher. He spoke little English and I spoke little Japanese. He taught me by example and through his wonderful spirit. At times he would lecture at great lengths. I hardly understood a word but felt an overwhelming spirit emanate from him. When I had trained long enough he began to call me up to take ukemi for him. I always felt honored. Grabbing him did not feel like grabbing a 5' 4" or so 110 pound Japanese fellow. It felt like grabbing a tree. A tree that was alive, powerful, and full of love. Never did I fear harm from him but I felt a spirit of loving protection all the while being tossed like a rag doll. He taught with his whole being and his spirit was overpowering. Of course his knowledge of aikido and his technique was impeccable. He could do amazing things. Yet, that isn't what made him great in my eyes. It goes so much deeper than that.
My son and I were fortunate enough to have met and trained with Francis Takahashi sensei at the Mt Baldy retreat. In that short time he inspired my son and I in ways that only a great teacher can. He made such a strong and positive impression on my son that I will always be grateful to him.
It is difficult to put into words what makes a teacher great but I have come to the conclusion that it is much more than having superior knowledge or being able to do magnificent things. There must needs be a deep connection between student and teacher. A great teacher must also have a great and loving spirit. They must have a love for teaching and a love for their students. In the end, it is the spirit of loving protection that makes a teacher great.
The true spirit of aikdo.

10-10-2007, 12:13 PM
Amen Mr. Wood, amen.

David Yap
10-11-2007, 01:54 AM
Mr. Wood,

Great teachers are hard to come by. I would be lucky to find a good teacher.


David Y

John Bernhard
10-11-2007, 08:59 AM
Mr. Wood,
Thank you for your post. I have found myself recently thinking about these very same things. I know for me what makes a great teacher is someone who "challenges" me and if I grasp the concept, will challenge me further, always causing me to grow. If I fail, instead of ridicule, I get warmth and a helping hand to try again. In aikido, recently I have really begun to admire my current Sensei. He is rather jovial in nature and allows an atmosphere of happiness to permeate through the dojo. I don't think I've ever smiled/laughed more while practicing Aikido. It is this I think that makes him a good teacher.

Angela Dunn
10-11-2007, 05:40 PM
For me (after having A LOT of teachers throughout my academic studies and Two really great Sensei's ) the best teachers for me have two common qualities, a passion for what they are teaching and patience. Although things like actually turning up to teach and remembering my name and a little bit about me help a lot.

Without a passion for the subject how can a teacher engage with his student. In order to teach well you have to make a subject come alive and if you can not do that then a teacher is in serious trouble.

Patience should be pretty self explanatory, there are days when students are just not going to get even the simplest of things and need help grasping them. If you get frustrated with them then they are not going to have the esteem to go on and try new things (be it subjects or moves!)

Other important things imo is making a class feel fun and relaxed and also allowing people to ask questions and taking the time to answer them (or guiding them to where to find answers themselves) and taking the time to listen to students pov. If a teacher is willing to learn and be challenged by students thats a sign, for me anyways , of not only a good teacher but a good person. Finally what was once described to me by one of my fave college teachers as "being a students very own cheerleader", meaning encouraging them to give things a go and boosting confidence in their own abilities. I think that's another big aspect of teaching to, if not the biggest actually.

10-12-2007, 01:06 PM
someone who has internalized a concept to the point where it 'is them.' There whole being walks as if they are made of what ever it is they are teaching, so to speak.

in this way they can then articulate, to some extent, {depends on the receivers end to receive also - when the student is ready the teacher is there}, that which needs to be passed on.

From a spiritual point of view, the philosopher Eckhart Tolle is like that.

Again, a lot has to do with finding someone who blends with you, but typically you have to have the spirit level in order to communicate {truly} on a level where you can pass on other concepts (whether it be aikido or brushing your teeth.

We so easily misunderstand each other and each others intents, that even if we were to master an art, it does not mean we can teach it. Ego often gets in the way, like today when my sempai teacher hit me in the ribs laughing saying that it was an alternative way to do one of the techniques. {He plays around rough with some of the others, but they are similar to him...I have to admit, Im a softy. - ribs, still soar.}

So, I think inside we all know what makes a good teacher, perhaps the bigger question is can we ever become the teacher. Perhaps its not about becoming, but of letting go.

I know I am not a teacher, though in the past I had been interested in teaching various things. It soon came to dawn on me that though I was a producer in the field of communications, I could not communicate.

So, with that -



10-21-2007, 08:13 AM
This might sound corny, but Plato had it right: the love of wisdom is predicated upon the love between teacher and student. If you don't care deeply about your students both as thinkers and as persons, you're in the wrong profession.

10-21-2007, 07:09 PM
I think that practice is one thing that makes a teacher great, to keep teaching. Also being a great technician is important to an Aikido teacher. Students emulate their teacher so the teacher must be able to model the correct behavior. To have confidence in the teaching process, not to over teach. To have confidence that students will learn. My Aikido teacher always has a positive way of conveying things to students. To find a positive aspect instead of something the student is doing wrong. No one likes to be criticized. To enjoy teaching, to enjoy the teaching process itself for what it is.

Walter Martindale
11-03-2007, 10:27 PM
A great teacher guides discovery and stimulates curiosity and learning beyond the class"room". He or she does not spoonfeed. This is the "mentor," "coach," "sensei," to whom I'll return. Math in grade 10. French in grade 10. Biomechanics in graduate studies, Aikido in Regina, Calgary, Auckland, and here in tiny Cambridge.

An instructor hands out information with little concern for how the student develops. This is the instructor I've often been stuck with (Ordinary Differential Equations, in 1976, for example, Fundamentals of Coaching, 1975 - the course I failed en route to becoming a professional coach...) Math 222 at UBC (polynomials) the first time through - it was the time that I learned the truth of the remark that people who say "obviously" in the context of a lecture are really saying "I can't teach"


Chicko Xerri
11-04-2007, 03:54 AM
Not much more than these few characteristics.

Duty (Giri), Resolution (Shiki), Generosity (Ansha), Firmness of soul (Fudo), Magnanimity (Doryo) and Humanity (Ninyo).

If a teacher is able to instill into the consciousness of students an awareness of these qualities he or she is a great teacher.

Rupert Atkinson
11-20-2007, 08:42 PM
Having a nice teacher does not make them great. Good maybe, but not great. A great teacher is one who teaches you everything they know and then provides you with the tools you need to find more. They are rare.

Dominic Toupin
11-21-2007, 11:11 AM
I got a quote from John Kessel who is a sport psychologist. That quote was translated to French for a Judo magazine and I tried to re-translate it in English for you (with my English limitations) :

"A mediocre trainer talks, a good one explains, a very good one demonstrates and the best one inspires."

The original translated to French quote was : L'entraîneur médiocre parle, le bon explique, le super démontre et le meilleur inspire. John Kessel – L’Esprit du judo, newsletter 55 28 nov.2006

David Yap
11-22-2007, 02:14 AM
Hi all,

Here is a link to one, I am sure there are many more:



David Y

David Yap
11-22-2007, 02:18 AM
And, another...


12-04-2007, 02:16 AM
Sensei J Thambu's just finished seminar in KL would make the cut, sine I have to travel the distance.

12-05-2007, 08:57 AM
I think a great teacher is an instructor that is still trying to polish his shihan skill... he lives,breaths and dies for his art... he/she (sorry ladies). I have been told by direct students of the founder that Aikido is endless.....blah blah blah, the fact is "Aikido is endless" even your Sensei can learn from you!!

12-05-2007, 08:58 AM
J Thambu is awsome!!!!!!