If you look back into human history and pull a list of the greatest teachers of all time, you’ll probably end up with names including:
- Anne Sullivan (teacher of Helen Keller)
- Maria Montessori (of discovery learning fame)
- John Locke (philosophy of character first and academics later)
- Jaime Escalante (known for his work teaching maths to troubled students in Los Angeles.)
- Albert Einstein
- Marva Collins
- Madenjit Singh (educating the poor in Cambodia)
What is it that makes these educators particularly brilliant? Partly, it’s fate. In each of the above cases, there were factors that assembled to create an opportunity for great impact. But it’s much more than that.
Whilst this is a very diverse list of people from different times and cultures, they share two fundamental similarities.
First, all of them were, to some degree, controversial in their time because they saw a different way. They bent rules and harnessed disruption and innovation as a source of energy. And this energy helped light a previously unseeable pathway ahead. Escalante taught ‘unteachable’ kids to succeed. Montessori challenged entrenched norms about teaching and, in the process, revolutionised primary education. Collins opened a ‘school’ for impoverished youth on the second floor of her own Chicago home.
Second, all of these great teachers knew that education, ultimately, is not about literacy and numeracy but, rather, about sculpting the character and lives of their students. They possessed a deep sense of purpose – of wanting to contribute to making the world a better place. And, in all cases, this fuelled heightened emotional engagement and deep passion in their students.
First, innovation & hope. Second, inspiration.
Therein is a lesson for all educators.