Can you recall a teacher whose influence changed the way you think, ignited a passion, or opened in you a vision for what was possible and who you could be? If so, you’re very fortunate. Many people experience an entire educational career, never having the opportunity to learn from a life-changing teacher.
They may have been exposed to committed, well-prepared teachers who supported their learning and provided guidance and advice. Yet, they didn’t encounter a driving force that led them to see possibilities and open doors to learning beyond their imagination and aspirations.
Of course, not every life-changing teacher is life-changing for every student they encounter. Also, life-changing experiences aren’t always recognized during the time students are with these teachers. Sometimes the impact isn’t realized until years later when students find themselves recalling and reliving experiences that shaped their lives.
Let’s explore the common characteristics of life-changing teachers. We can start by noting that life-changing teachers tend to the basics. They build strong relationships with students. They’re skilled in their craft and are professional in their approach. In addition, these teachers typically possess and practice some, or all, of a shared set of characteristics and behaviors.
Life-changing teachers hold a belief in the potential of students at levels that exceed what students often dare to believe. These teachers are talent scouts, gift seekers, and expectation lifters. Being in their presence makes students feel brighter, more competent, and more committed. They give students hope to dream and strive for more than they imagined they could achieve.
These teachers nudge and challenge students at the leading edge of their skills and beyond. They’re never satisfied with what students already can do. They search for what might be the student’s next level of learning and how they can awaken an interest and emerging passion that students will own. Regardless of where students may be when they encounter life-changing teachers, these teachers are committed to nurturing growth and expanding learning.
They have an infectious passion for what they do. Students find it almost impossible to not be energized and excited by what these teachers care about. What may sound boring and mundane seemingly comes to life in these teachers’ presence and is compelling to learn.
These teachers have a voracious learning appetite. For them learning is like breathing. They’re curious, inquisitive, and engaged. They’re always searching for something interesting, new, and sharable.
Life-changing teachers often have a level of persistence bordering on tenacity. They refuse to give up on students, even when students may be tempted to give up on themselves. These teachers possess a combination of patience and confidence that sustains their efforts. They believe students will eventually respond to their faith, nudging, and influence, even if it takes weeks, months, or longer.
Uncommon teachers hold uncompromising standards. These teachers have a commitment to have all students be successful. The question never is whether standards should be lowered. Rather, they search for paths and processes that‘ll help students meet them. Their mantra often is “Whatever it takes.”
Interestingly, life-changing teachers frequently are famous with their students for their quirkiness, often even bordering on eccentricity. These teachers may have unique sayings, engage in unexpected behaviors, or share surprising insights and perspectives. Often students discuss with each other and treasure these aspects of their experience with these teachers long after they’ve moved forward in their own lives.
The good news is that being a life-changing teacher is something to which we can all aspire. In fact, the characteristics of life-changing teachers are learnable, achievable, and practicable. Further, not every life-changing teacher must possess and practice all the characteristics that are common to these teachers. Every student deserves to encounter a life-changing teacher. We can be that teacher.