What Makes An Effective Educator?

By Bryant Russ, ‘11

Floating around somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea that a good teacher has to be young, hip, and in touch with teenage slang and references to Justin Bieber songs.  You know, to relate and stuff.

And then I enrolled in British Literature.  All it took was a semester with Professors Bill Reynolds and Peter Schakel to transform my idea of what an effective educator looks like.  These guys came to class every day brimming over with excitement to talk about books I didn’t think people read anymore. Professor Reynolds donned a special St. George necktie the day we discussed his battle with the dragon (St. George’s battle with the dragon, not Professor Reynolds.  Though if it ever came to it, my money would be on Reynolds). Professor Schakel waved his hands to the rhythm of Sir Gawain and the Green Night, reciting the fourteenth century poem excitedly as though he just wrote it before coming to class and couldn’t wait to share.  Both teachers respectfully interrupted each other with animated interjections and exclamations about long dead authors that apparently couldn’t wait.

These professors love literature in a wonderful, nerdy, delightful, riotous, intriguing kind of way.  And you know what, after a semester with these two gems, I actually came to love British Literature, too.  Not because they spent all their time stressing over how to make it come alive for us, but by simply letting it come alive in them and then just being themselves.  This, after all, is the key.  

Not only did I leave their class passionate about stories like Paradise Lost, but I also learned what it means to be a good teacher.  I learned how to love learning, how to model learning as play, how to care about something so deeply and sincerely that others can’t help but start to care a little, too.  

If you would like to read more of Bryant Russ’ writings, visit his personal blog here.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.