I’m not a good dancer.
I’m not sure why really, I guess I’m just self-conscious about the way I look when I dance. I shouldn’t be this way because I believe in a growth mindset. Why worry about making mistakes or about the way I look? That was the subject of a previous blog post. OK, I promise to work on this.
I have certain peculiar niche interests. Just ask my wife (@dmgately) who tolerates these unique fascinations but loves me anyway… One of my niche interests — the fact that all performers are great dancers also.
I heard an interview with the actor Christopher Walken who said that when he was young, he took dance lessons because to be successful in the acting business, you have to be able to dance. You’ve seen Walken dance in many of his films and when he’s appeared on TV, he’s a remarkable dancer.
Consider Tom Cruise in Risky Business, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers, Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off… all great dancers. Jim Carey, Meryl Streep, Wesley Snipes, Robert De Niro, Hugh Grant, Reese Witherspoon… they are all respectable dancers. And when you see them dance in a movie, they elevate the film and make it better than it would have been without the dancing.
One of my favorite Saturday Night Live pieces is What’s up with That. It’s a hysterical skit — but my favorite part is that, in the background, whenever music plays, you see Jason Sudeikis in a hysterical 1970’s style, red running suit, dancing. He does the running man, the Roger Rabbit, the Cabbage Patch, the dice roll, and several other really cool dance moves. He’s brilliant.
I’m telling you, every comedian, actor and actress can dance…
This got me to thinking, what is it that every teacher has to be able to do, to paraphrase Christopher Walken, “If they’re going to be successful in this business.”
I have always believed that success as a teacher is a result of a complex calculus of skills and temperaments. Some teachers are not in the deep end of the pool as far as their content knowledge but they are creative and purposeful in their pedagogy, their classrooms are engaging and fun. There are teachers who don’t have the most electric personalities, yet they possess amazing content knowledge and intelligence such that students hang on their every word and love being in their classes. Conversely, some teachers overcome content knowledge deficits with astounding charisma. This is not to say that all of these attributes are not important in some measure. But like a great dinner recipe, the ratio of ingredients may vary but the resulting meal can still impress.
I believe that it is caring. The most important attribute all teachers must possess is caring. There is a well-known aphorism about teaching, “Students will not care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” And in the same way that an actor can steal a scene or make a film memorable by dancing, a teacher lights up a classroom and gets into the hearts of young people by showing their sincere concern for their students. Because there are teachers who know everything there is to know about their subjects but they struggle because they don’t genuinely care much about kids. I’ve known teachers who had all the personality in the world, their colleagues loved them, they were fun to hang out with, but they failed because they didn’t actually like kids all that much.
There’s lots of ways to be an amazing teacher, but you cannot be even minimally effective if you don’t first care deeply about your students.
I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure I’m not. I’d love to hear your opinion. What do you think is the MOST important characteristic of an effective teacher?