“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” –Albert Einstein
Think back to one teacher who inspired you in school and it’s easy to understand exactly what Einstein was talking about.
A great teacher wears many hats—coach, fan, disciplinarian, leader, counselor, and many others—often at the same time. Few professions stand to have such a profound impact on the lives of children and families.
President Obama has proclaimed this week National Teacher Appreciation Week, calling on all Americans “to recognize the hard work and dedication of our nation’s teachers.” National education groups, businesses, and individuals are celebrating the work of teachers through social media campaigns (#ThankATeacher), special teacher-related discounts, and fond memories of their favorite educators.
As we reflect back on those teachers that challenged and empowered us personally, let’s take a look at how great teachers inspired some of the most important scientific, cultural, and political leaders of our time. (This information comes from the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize. More on that, including links, below.)
Once a bored student with bad handwriting, famed physicist Stephen Hawking remembers how a math teacher named Mr. Tahta ignited a passion for learning that led him to an esteemed career as a scientist and professor.
In a video for this year’s Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, Hawking remembers how Tahta was different than most teachers. “His lessons were lively and exciting. Everything could be debated,” notes Hawking. It’s this ability to challenge students that sets the best teachers apart.
“When each of us thinks about what we can do in life,” Hawkins says, “chances are, we can do it because of a teacher.”
More from Dr. Hawking on his favorite teacher:
Oprah deemed her fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Duncan so important and influential in her own success that she thanked the educator in the final episode of her legendary talk show. Referring to Duncan as her “first liberator” and “validator,” Oprah pointed to the ability of truly great teachers to instill confidence in their students.
By now, we all know the impact the Oprah brand has had on American culture, but did you know Oprah nearly decided to become a teacher?
On her website, Oprah writes about how she was inspired by Mrs Duncan: “For the first time, I wasn’t afraid to be smart, and she often stayed after school to work with me. I thought I would one day become a fourth-grade teacher.”
President Bill Clinton
President Clinton credits high school band director Virgil Spurlin for imparting specific skills he’d need as President. Spurlin taught the former Commander-in-Chief how to organize and allocate resources—a set of skills Clinton deemed essential to his time in the White House.
More important, Clinton says Spurlin instilled in his students the confidence to excel at their passions. As the president told the Harvard Mentoring Project, Spurlin thought “that everybody was good at something and if he just looked hard enough he could find it, he could convince them of it, and he could raise their aspirations and their hopes.” As Clinton says in this video from the Varkey Prize, the work of Spurlin and all of America’s teachers is “truly heroic.”
Great teachers have a profound impact on the lives and careers they inspire. But, not unlike the hundreds of students who pass through their classrooms each year, even the best educators need to feel empowered in order to succeed.
As we honor America’s teachers this week, remember how essential it is to bring teachers into the important conversations about your district and their work. Ask for their input on key decisions and do whatever is in your power to ensure their needs and the needs of their students are met. The future depends on it.
How do you engage teachers in your school or district? Tell us in the comments.
If you’re looking for a better way to empower teachers and include them in critical conversations, you might start by giving them a voice. It’s easier than you think.