The 3 Traits of the Teachers We Love

Jon Platt is a Texas-born, award-winning writer. He is a graduate student in Baylor University's journalism program. Jon coordinates HEI's digital marketing. He lives in Waco, Texas with his Dalmatian, Penny.

Remember that one teacher back in grade school? No, not the one who caught you passing notes across class and read your profession of love to your crush aloud. I mean the teacher who cared, who sparked an interest, who made a difference in your life.

When I think of that kind of teacher, three names come to mind: Norman Rowden, Kim McKinnon and Holly Davis. I had these teachers at three different stages in life – elementary, middle and high school, respectively. Yet, they were each able to leave a lasting impact in my life. I don’t think that merely happened by accident. I think it happened because teachers we love the most and who leave a lasting impact on us often are the teachers with three common traits.

Flashback to a Year Past

Sitting in senior English at Kilgore High School one day, I was bored out of my mind and a little peeved. Earlier that day, a teacher had publicly scolded me for not paying attention. See: I didn’t fit in well in high school, so I always had my head elsewhere, always reading about my latest fascination. That rarely sat well with teachers, who were determined for me to focus on long division or a map of the Eastern Bloc or “Cry the Beloved Country.” After my scolding, I headed for English without speaking to a soul and huffed down in a seat, hoping I could resemble a potted plant and just get through the hour.

Often, between the bells, I would whip out my Kindle and disappear into the works of Steven Covey, Zig Ziglar, Annie Dillard, Martha Beck. In my huff in my desk next to her computer, Mrs. Davis peered over and asked, “What are you reading today?” I told her, and she was surprisingly receptive.

“Good for you,” she said. “Read all you can, whenever you can. You’ll find yourself.”

I’ve never forgotten that moment. It wasn’t the first time a teacher had advised me to feed my interests (and certainly not the last time Mrs. Davis would).

You’ve probably have moments like this, too. You could tell me a few, and I’d see a glimpse of how you became who you are today. Because, so very often, it’s these teachers who leave the largest impact in our lives, who can change our destiny with a few words.

That’s because these teachers have three universal characteristics:

  1. They notice. It’s a hard day’s work to be a teacher. (I don’t have to tell you that.) And we appreciate every ounce of work you do. We also know it’s difficult to be fully engaged with every student, but a little time of noticing the hurting, huffed or highly engaged student goes a long way.
  2. They show up. Not at the student’s home or to her lunch table, but in a gentle way, like how Mrs. Davis peered over her monitor. Showing up is as much a reminder to the student that she’s not alone as it is a way to show her she’s worth being noticed.
  3. They encourage. Mrs. Davis did the one thing I needed in that moment. She said, in a gentle way, that my interests were worth my time and that I was worth hers. I’m not sure students get enough of that with tests and assignments in the way.

School is about making us better people, better citizens, but the system places so much pressure on teaching for the scantron that students often end up feeling like just grades on a roster. Taking the time to notice, show up and encourage one single student could make the world a completely different place.

We remember these teachers because they helped us become more of who we are. They’re still the teachers that make us want to say over and over, “Gosh, I loved having her or him.”

I’m sure you are that teacher to several students. Now, go be it for a few more.

Question: When was a time a teacher notice, showed up and encouraged you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Jon Platt is a Texas-born, award-winning writer. He is a graduate student in Baylor University's journalism program. Jon coordinates HEI's digital marketing. He lives in Waco, Texas with his Dalmatian, Penny.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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