Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I'm Going to Be the Most Mediocre Teacher I Can Be!

I had a less than stellar moment while teaching yesterday. (Oh, what a good reminder that I am still learning even though I am the teacher!)

It happened in Intro to Education. I was explaining an assignment. My students--freshmen, mostly--are about to undertake their first research project, and I was elaborating the expectations for how to conduct good research, as in, "googling for websites is search, not research." We were talking about the library collection, and Encyclopedias of Education, and reference librarians, and excellent academic resources available online. I closed my explanation with an encouragement to be excellent: "Think about it this way: are you in college to learn? Or to just 'get by?'"

I noticed several students turn to a friend seated next to them and mutter: "I'm trying to just get by..." with a grin.

I did not grin.

I dropped the hammer on them.

"Hey! If you're going to just 'get by' as a teacher, you might as well get out now!"

<blinks from the students sitting in stunned silence>

"I mean, seriously...who wants to be a 'just getting by' teacher?"

<more blinks from students>

"Think about it from the parents' perspective. How many parents do you think say, 'You know, I hope my kid gets a slightly-below-average teacher this year.' None. That's how many. No kid deserves a 'just getting by' teacher."

<wow, it sure is quiet in here...>

"No one sets out to be a mediocre teacher, right? 'I'm going to be the most mediocre teacher I can be!' No way. Be excellent! And start right now!"

Yikes, Mulder. Maybe want to rein it in a bit? (Good thing it was close to the end of class...)


I keep replaying this scene in my head, trying to see it from my students' perspective. Was I wrong to chide them this way? I wonder if I would have opted out of education if a professor had been that blunt with me so early in my studies? (Full disclosure: I got a "B" in student teaching, and I fully deserved it. I was not an excellent teacher. I'd like to think I got better, and that I'm still getting better...) I hope they took it in the way I truly meant it: to inspire excellence over apathy.

Is it unrealistic to expect an 18-year-old kid who had to ask permission to use the restroom just a few months ago to start to behave like a professional? Maybe...

Here's the point: I don't think any teacher sets out to be mediocre, but I am not sure why we don't have more great teachers out there. And I want my students--future teachers that they are--to already start thinking of themselves as great teachers.


  1. Two thoughts on the above. Even though we may not (definitely not) start off as excellent teachers, that is what we should be striving for. Hearing the standard explained so clearly at the beginning is a good reminder of where we ought to be. I certainly don't remember the source, but the comment, 'The way you train is the way you will compete' holds true. The second comment is that we, as Christian teachers, ought to be (and are) held to a higher standard (James 3:1 [perhaps out of context slightly]). If we don't begin to rise to the standard now, when will we start?

  2. Thanks for your honesty Dave, please, please, make that a poster. That conversation will rattle in your students' head for a while, and hopefully haunt :) them when they are tempted to be a mediocre teacher.