When somebody talks about a teacher who they loved, admired and respected; they might use words like, “kind, respectful, caring, funny, unique”, etc… These are all strong indicators of a highly qualified teacher. But, if you asked them, “was that teacher passionate about teaching? Were they passionate about their content? Were they passionate about making a difference? And, were they passionate about always making you feel special in class?” The answer would almost certainly have been yes!
I, and many other educators and leaders frequently speak and write about the importance of bringing your passion into the classroom and sharing that passion with your students and colleagues. When I’m asked by others, “how do you know when a teacher is passionate about their job?” My reply is always the same, “you know a passionate teacher when you watch one, hear one and talk to one.” This doesn’t mean that they are going around telling people that they have a passion for teaching. Quite the opposite, passionate teachers leave it all out in the classroom or school. Witnessing a teacher who brings that energy, determination, and spirit to their students is easy to see but hard to replicate.
I’ve been fortunate enough over almost 3 decades to see and even be taught by those teachers who epitomize passion in how they teach. While the teachers/coaches I speak about all had qualities that made them passionate, it’s also true that they weren’t carbon copies of each other. For example, Mr. Black, my high school Spanish teacher was incredibly funny, quick-witted and always found ways to make us laugh. Mr. Betz, my 5th-grade Elementary school teacher was all about kindness, being authentic and teaching us the difference between right and wrong. Mrs. Gold, my Calculus teacher in college, had that motherly way about her that made it almost impossible for me to ever disappoint her. She inspired us to not only be better at Math, but more importantly better people. Finally, my good friend and principal Andy Sanko demonstrated through his words, actions, and hard work the true meaning of team. Andy and I coached Wrestling together, and while I hopefully inspired him to be a better coach, I know that he helped me to be a better teacher, coach, and man.
Even though each of the teachers above provided me with different thoughts on their passion for teaching, there are some very similar traits that all truly passionate educators possess.
- A love of children – It may sound like a cliche, but being truly passionate about your job requires you to love helping your students. This might seem strange that it even comes up in as a point to be mentioned. It seems so much like common sense. You’d expect every person working with children to actually enjoy that part of their work. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. I’ve been in conversations with more teachers than I’d care to mention who seem like the job is more like a job and less like a passion. I don’t necessarily blame people for feeling this way, because teaching is definitely not for the faint of heart, nor is it even close to a totally carefree job. It most definitely is not! The challenges that come with educating our youth are never as simple as many people think and the job can be thankless at times. There are many occasions when even the most positive, happy and enthusiastic teachers get frustrated and upset. But, they rarely allow those occurrences to influence their overall outlook on education. In their hearts and minds, they love helping to make a child’s experience in school positive, worthwhile and memorable.
- A content expert, both in knowledge and practice – Education is always changing. With the incredible availability of technology and all that it can be used for, a teacher must be an expert in their field of study. No matter the subject or grade level; those teachers who are passionate about their content and the delivery of instruction make the difference between students who are falling asleep in their chairs, and those that can’t wait to get started learning. By demonstrating to students your understanding of the material and showing them how much you value their enjoyment, you provide opportunities for each of them to develop their own passion for learning.
- Sees the “big picture.” – Let’s face it, very few of our graduating seniors are going to say, “Mr. Shapiro was passionate! He helped us to learn the material and taught us the content; which allowed the class to do well on tests and quizzes.” On the other hand, I hope they’d say “Mr. Shapiro was incredibly passionate! He helped us to see the importance of what we’re learning, he inspired us to take risks that were outside of our comfort zone and he challenged us to think about how our time in school and beyond could shape our lives.”
Here is a brief story about 3 young men that inspired me to write this post. Spending time with them frequently helps me to maintain the passion that I have for teaching. Sometimes they frustrate me to no end. Just like many teens, they believe that their answers are gospel. But, I think mine are as well, so who am I to judge. Most days after school ends, they come to my room and visit before going to exercise in our fitness center. Even though our conversations vary greatly from topic to topic, on this particular occasion, we went round and round about grades, tests, colleges and the necessary skills needed to go beyond high school. I was struck by how blunt they were about those teachers that truly cared, and those that looked at teaching as solely a “paycheck” to be taken. While I listened to their stories, it became crystal clear that they, even more than me, truly understood the passion that is necessary for change to occur in students. Two of the three-spoke fondly of the class they loved, and the teacher who allowed them to discover that love. The third, a constant visitor to my class, didn’t mention specifics on a particular course, but his words, “I see a few teachers who truly love their job, this has helped me to push hard every day to be a better person”, made it clear that he is fully aware of the importance that passion brings to each student.
While the 3 ideas above all have value, I’m not suggesting that they are all-inclusive. Writing about a passion for education could be an entire book. Instead, my hope is that you’ll at least be intrigued to read more about the topic. If that happens, then great opportunities will occur. A great closing quote is an excellent summation of the power of a passionate teacher.
"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all" - A