Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Here’s What Makes Great Teachers So Extraordinary

I'm fortunate to be surrounded by teachers, mainly of the yoga variety, but I’m grateful to have many teachers from varying subjects as my students as well. Often teachers are the best students because they carry a passion for learning and they understand that being a good teacher requires being a student on a daily basis.

Recently, I had the privilege of shadowing a Chicago math teacher for one full school day. A woman named Dana, who began as my yoga student and became my friend, exposed me to just a fraction of her job teaching math to kids between ages 12 and 14.

The most heartwarming and uplifting part of that experience was seeing the joy, passion and enthusiasm on my friend's face as she did what she loved. The subject couldn’t have been further from yoga, but we were the same. The glimmer in her eye and sincerity in her voice was what resonated, and that intangible quality is what connects us all when we’ve found what it is we’re supposed to do.

Here’s what you’ll feel around a great teacher:

They know their shit.

Boy was I embarrassed at how much math I’d forgotten, but by the end of the day, after attending each class, I knew much more than when I went in. What separates a teacher from simply being an expert is that they know how to appeal to different learning styles. During just one day, we were exposed to visual, auditory and descriptive explanations on how to solve one type of problem. And we played games!

In yoga, a thoughtful teacher will provide the same. The verbal cues will be concise, efficient and delivered with an appropriate tone and helpful vocabulary. The spiritual and emotional guidance will be grounded in the history and philosophy of yoga, delivered truthfully from the heart of the teacher, peppered in gracefully to aid practitioners on their own journey. For visual learners, the teacher will provide adequate breakdowns and demos of a sequence or pose, and will remain open for questions if need be. In between verbal and visual cues, the use of firm, yet gentle touch will help guide students into the correct alignment and most pleasant experience in the posture. The thread connecting it all will be an excitement for learning, a playfulness in the approach and practice.

They’re happy to be there. 

I choose to believe we’re all doing our best and the teachers from my past meant well, but the ones who made their lasting mark on me devoted their energy in a way that others simply did not. It doesn’t mean they were happy or satisfied all the time; as a matter of fact, my best teachers knew exactly when to implement tough love, and their deep-seated belief in my learning not only encouraged me to learn for myself, but to make them proud as well. Their enthusiasm and joy for their subjects rubbed off on me, even if it wasn’t my favorite, and the attitude facilitated a better mindset for learning. Happy teachers equal happy students.

Their job doesn’t end when class does.

When you love your job, you’re not in a hurry for it to end or dreading for it to begin. You show up early and leave late because you want to, not because you have to. And good teachers know this more than anyone. Regardless of pay, the time and energy dedicated to knowing their craft and creating interesting ways to teach it is what makes good teachers tick.

Whether it's math, science, yoga, athletics, reading, writing or a million subjects in between, the passion for study and practice extends well beyond the confines of a classroom or mat. A good teacher won't just take time to answer questions; they yearn for questions.

I learn so much from my fellow teachers and my mentors. They’re constantly striving to find a harmonious balance in the room, keeping the energy high and the stress level low. The only thing they love more than their subject is their students and they never forget how they are a student of life as well, no better and no worse than any other.

Great teachers feel no need to compete or compare, because the more human beings engaged in learning and exchanging ideas, the better off this planet will be. It has nothing to do with what their students or their subject will bring to them and everything to do with what it can extract, what hidden element within can then be shared and given away.

The greatest teachers and communicators exhibit the highest level of presence and focus imaginable. They're so in tune with their vision, their voice, their message and they relish every moment they’re able to share it. Just as I’d be nowhere without my students, I’d also be lost without teachers.

Even if the roles we play and titles we hold don’t read “Teacher” or “Learner,” that’s exactly what we’re here to do: exchange ideas, laughter, knowledge and love. Go hug your teachers, then hug yourself. Listen to what calls to you and do not be afraid to answer. It’s what your best teachers would want you to do.

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