What makes a teacher great?
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.