A teacher is someone who communicates a curriculum effectively—someone with the skills to present information and assess a student’s understanding of the information. While this is the prosaic and practical definition, the teacher’s full impact on the student can be explored further.
Not only does a good teacher present information, she presents it in such a way that students cannot help but see some of the beauty that the teacher sees. A teacher does not just tell about the nuclear reactions of stars, their light spectra, and their distance away from us; she also, through these facts, captures a childlike awe of the heavens. As David the Psalmist sings, “When I consider the Heavens…” This is beyond enthusiastic or engaging teaching. It is teaching that instills a love for the world around them and the human activity in it. A student that learns to examine, ponder, and wonder is a student who has been taught well.
Ultimately, a teacher tries to instill a love for what is true, good, and beautiful. Through the guided study of Art, Music, Literature, Mathematics, Science, History, and Latin, students discover the truths in each of these subjects. If truly instilled, it will beautifully inspire the student to continue learning and growing their whole life.
While a good teacher imparts information well, imparting information well is not the full definition of a teacher. The classroom contains relationships between the teacher and students—relationships with profound impact. Think back to your own education. Do you remember all the US Presidents, how to diagram a participle, or all the parts of a plant cell? Most likely not! But you probably remember when a teacher gave you confidence after a bad test or corrected you when you spoke unkindly to your peer.
In both academic and moral education, a teacher leads by example. A teacher not only commits to teaching what he knows, but is himself a student of his discipline. Whether in preparation for class, reading after school, or taking professional development in the summer, a teacher works hard to expand his own knowledge. A teacher understands that learning is a lifelong process.
As a teacher leads a student by her words and actions, she enters into a mentoring relationship. As Dr. Russ explains in his essay The Teacher as Mentor: The Storied Life, a mentor guides a student to create a purposeful narrative for himself. The student, being made in the image of God, has come from somewhere and is headed somewhere. The mentor-teacher facilitates the student’s grasping this reality, and living his story to its full potential.