"The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires." -William Arthur Ward
What makes a great teacher? They are definitely few and far between. But without them, teaching wouldn't be the fine art that it is and students wouldn't be motivated to achieve greatness. A great teacher makes a difference to the student and to the class as a whole. Great teachers make a difference to the school, which then makes a difference to the surrounding community, which makes a difference to its resident state, which then in turn makes a difference to the country, which makes a difference to the world at large. And it all starts with you!
The One and Only, Mr. Uyeda!
There was excitement in the air. Everyone could feel it. Mr. Uyeda's fourth-grade class was buzzing about the assignment he had given the day before. It was time for students to make brief presentations about how they would run the country if they were President of the United States. Looking around, you wouldn't think anyone was nervous about making a presentation in front of the class, but one little boy was. He was VERY nervous. So nervous in fact that he started to sweat, which lead to continuous shaking and then to extreme dryness of the mouth. He didn't know how he was going to make it through. He made sure to position himself at the end of the presentation line so he could delay the inevitable as much as possible. This wasn't fun. He just wished he could go home and forget about the whole thing. Escapism? Oh yes, to the nth degree! No one told him fourth grade was going to be like this. This truly was the worst ever. If he just could have sneaked into class that day, totally unseen, things might have been better. But for now, there wasn't a worse day in school that he could remember.
"I would bring total peace to the world," one student proudly said. Another confidently marched to the front of the room, positioned herself front and center, smiled, and said, "As President, I would make sure there was food for everyone. No one would ever be hungry, ever!" This caused the entire class to erupt in wild supportive applause. "Free video games for everyone," another student said to rousing cheers from the rest of the class. Mr. Uyeda smiled broadly because the desired result of his assignment was now being realized by his class. Fun was being had by all in the name of creativity and imagination. But not all students had their time in front of the class. Guess who was left? When the rest of the class realized that only one person now remained, it suddenly got so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. All eyes now focused on the one remaining student, who was just sitting there, totally terrified.
"There's only one student left. So let's hear from him now, shall we?" Mr. Uyeda said, hoping to provide a little motivation for the boy to rise, come forward and deliver. No go! The boy just sat there, miserably wishing he could be somewhere else, anywhere else, at this moment in time. "If I only had a magic wand, this is the time I'd use it. I'd wave it, and all of this would go away and I'd be in my room at home," the boy thought. Mr. Uyeda then said to the class, "Everyone, let's give him a big round of applause so he can share his ideas and views with the rest of us." At first, not one student would clap for the boy, which of course, made him feel even worse -if that was at all possible! A few minutes later, the class applauded as the boy rose to his feet and slowly made his way to the front of the room. Once in position he looked out and saw a sea of eyes looking back at him with what seemed to be hatred and judgment. "OK, I'll just say what I have to say in the best way I can, and you know what? They'll love it!" the boy thought to himself. He looked out at everyone again, took a deep breath and prepared to share his first words. A few seconds seemed like two months to the boy. He decided to just "go for it," and said, "Umm . . . if I were President, I'd send love to everyone and, and make them smile!" Another few seconds passed-it seemed like two months-before the class reacted. Then, as if someone had flipped some switch somewhere, the entire class burst into loud, jeering laughter. The boy was taken by surprise and felt as if he were two inches tall. To make matters worse, now various members of the class started teasing him. The negative energy grew to a fevered pitch. The boy wanted to run as far from this horrific real-life nightmare as possible, but was paralyzed with hurt, fear and utter despair. The bullying energy had never been this bad and this pervasive.
All at once, Mr. Uyeda, from where he was standing at the side of the classroom spoke up. "Everyone, be quiet, and be quiet now. I don't want to hear anything from anyone. I'm extremely disappointed that you all took it upon yourselves to react that way to what was just shared with you. Can I ask you what he did to deserve your negative and hateful reaction? Nothing, I suspect! All of you shared your wish today, he just shared his. Did he react that way to what each of you had to say when you were up there? Listen everyone and listen well-the boy you see standing before you may be very hurt by your unwarranted reactions, but one day I guarantee you, he'll be doing things that you can only dream of. Being special and wonderfully unique is something to be proud of. Even if this isn't totally realized yet in all of us, it's something to respect and learn from. Shame on all of you! That wasn't the point of this assignment. One day, what this beautiful boy said moments ago will make sense to you. It's meaningful, deep and profound. How come any of YOU didn't come up with it?"
The class was silent. Once again, you could have heard a pin drop. The boy was so full of emotion that he wanted to burst into a million pieces. But instead, he quietly left the front of the class and sat back in his seat, way in the back of the class. He knew deep within that something changed that afternoon. Something had shifted, but what it was, he hadn't the slightest idea.
In case you haven't figured it out, that little boy was me. I will never forget that day. As horrible as it was, the sun did eventually come out because for the very first time, who I was-my energy, my essence, my being as an individual, was finally acknowledged and understood. Even if I didn't understand it fully at the time, someone else did. In all of five minutes, I went from being completely torn down to being lifted up as a positive example for all to see and learn from. There was something different about me, this I always knew. But it took Mr. Uyeda to bring it out of me. I will never forget him. Mr. Uyeda understood me in ways that few others ever did. It was as if he got into my being and knew exactly who I was. Not only that, who he knew I was seemed to be totally OK with him; he stood behind me when no one else would. He was the teacher that meant the most to me in my life and believe me, I've had a lot of amazing teachers in my time. Mr. Uyeda is why I'm able to appreciate who I am today. Because of him, I'm never afraid to stand before a group of people and say what I feel moved to say. He helped me realize that I have an important message to share, and it's something I should never be afraid or ashamed of. My message is me, and for this I will always be indebted to Mr. Uyeda. All of this from a fourth-grade teacher!
Do you have a similar story concerning a teacher you'll never forget? So many of us do. Think of how much time you and I spent in classrooms growing up. We think we lived at home, but in reality, our homes were in the schools we attended for so many years. Our teachers became our makeshift parents. They were our mothers and fathers during the day, and our true parents took over the job in the evenings and on weekends. Just as you might have a parent or family member you'll never forget, you probably have a teacher who has meant just as much or more.
Why share this story with you? Because anytime you doubt that you have an effect on students' lives, think again. Mr. Uyeda was a great teacher, and you know what? So are you! Don't believe me? Think over your time as a teacher. Can you think of any students whose lives you've changed for the better? It's that moment of change that I want you to think about. Just as Mr. Uyeda did in that moment when he said what he did to his class of doubters, it may have taken one fleeting moment for you to change a student's life forever.
So what is it about a teacher that can make such a profound difference in the life of a student? There are multiple answers to this question, but first and foremost is this: It is teaching that moves students, comes from one place and one place only-your heart! If your heart isn't in it, it ain't gonna happen! If your heart isn't in it, your students will somehow sense this and you'll instantly feel them disengage. Do your students sometimes seem disinterested in what you have to say? Consider the possibility that it might what you are sending out rather than something they might be going through.
If you think teaching from the heart is difficult and requires years of study, think again. As a lover of dance, your passion and creativity should always be at the forefront of any dance-related effort. As a teacher, your passion, creativity and sheer love of the art form, if it's genuine, is a prime motivator to the students you teach. As you lead your classes day after day, you intuitively know when an important moment comes along, one offering a chance to make a difference in a student's life. If you feel the opening is there, go for it! Don't hold back. As long as what you impart is in keeping with the true reason you are there, you, too, can save the day for a student in need. Saving the day might in turn mean saving a life.
The event I shared with you from the fourth grade was a true "ah-ha moment" for me, one of my first. But it's the one I'll never forget. Never shy away from giving a student of yours an ah-ha moment. It could just be the moment of profound change. It doesn't only make you a great teacher, it makes you unforgettable. Just ask Mr. Uyeda.