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A Great Teacher = An Educator




By Elaine Guerrazzi | October 21, 2019

I have been a participant in and a member of the field of education my entire life.  Many members of my family also worked in this profession.  In fact, my twin sister worked in middle school/high school for 33 years.  I recently listened to a TEDxYouth Talk by Timmy Sullivan.  Timmy shared his perspectives on the differences between a teacher and an educator. Others in the field share the same insights and distinctions made by the speaker.

A teacher is someone who shows up for a teaching job every day. He or she knows the content and likely teaching like a job. Whereas an educator is one of those people who goes farther than what is expected. It’s the teacher who makes relationships with students more important than the content, but because of those relationships, the content comes alive (Sackstein, 2016).

An educator educates. That is, they present the information, asses, revisit, and assess again until they are satisfied with the LEARNING that has taken place. To have all students learning an educator needs to be proficient at all kinds of different strategies such as differentiation, meaningful assessments, authentic assessments, scaffolding, and on and on. If you call yourself an educator you show confidence that you know your stuff and that you are good at what you do. Teaching does not imply learning, only teaching. If your students haven’t learned after you have taught, you have still taught and fulfilled the role as teacher. Education implies that learning is involved (Johnston, 2017).

Educator and teacher are two words that appear to be synonyms at first, but there are subtle differences between these two words. When compared with educator, teacher merely refers to a job title; teacher is a person who teaches in a school. But, an educator is a person who educates students. A good teacher can be called an educator. This is the main difference between educator and teacher (Hasa, 2016).

After listening to the TedTalk and reading on the idea of how learning and education can span a lifetime, I asked my sister about her experiences.  Interestingly, when I asked her who inspired her to pursue education as a career her response was the same as mine.  Our first influential educator was Miss B. 

Who or what inspired you to be a teacher?  

The person who inspired me the most to become a teacher was Miss B.  She was someone who, not only taught the skills needed for the class, but was also a person who was respected by the students and teachers for her candor, her sense of humor, and her ability to teach in a classroom setting as well as in the gym.  She was someone a person could learn from by just being around her and, students wanted to be around her.  I still think about her quite a bit and still laugh when I remember the “championship” badminton game that Miss B. and her partner challenged us to in our senior physical education class.  The class, as well as my sister and myself, “knew” there was no chance two “old ladies” could win this game.  Well, another lesson wasc taught by Miss B…..she and her partner actually stood in one spot throughout the game and proceeded to, literally and figuratively, run us around the court. We were humbler and ‘sweatier” from this experience.

What was your favorite lesson/topic to teach and what made this lesson/topic unique? 

I would have to say that the unit on Ecology has been a favorite.  The unit lends itself to discussions beyond the basic content. We talked about caring for the environment and how decisions made to improve our lifestyle can negatively affect the natural world.  Students interacted during a brief discussion about how and why decisions to improve the efficiency and ease at which we live could negatively affect the animals, the atmosphere, etc. Students began to understand that learning and becoming knowledgeable in areas they may not originally have any interest in will help them be able to make informed decisions in their future.  In the short time we were able to spend on this unit the students created thinking maps, worked together on computer and lab activities, and we had another fun review game using the SMART Board while students competed with their “teams”.  When I was able to “step back” and just watch my students, I saw them engaged, happy, confident, and excited about the quality of their work and their ability to carry on some “science discourse” as they “taught” each other and reflected on their answers.

How did you differentiate instruction for the different learning styles and abilities in your classroom?

To me, the goal of differentiating is to maximize each student’s academic and personal growth so that they develop the ability to take control of their own lives and learning.  When planning a unit, the first question in my mind is, “How do I divide time, resources, and myself so that I am an effective catalyst for maximizing the talent in all my students?” My priority is ALWAYS to ensure that curriculum is coherent, important, inviting, and thoughtful.  Every student must think at a high level AND must receive support when doing it.  I use flexible grouping throughout each unit.  Students may work individually, with their partner, with their lab group, or with their teams during any given unit. I have placed students in these groups based on their personal attributes, academic skills, attendance, and reading levels. As I consider the “whole” of what I cover during a given unit and I try to create a core of engaging activities to select from as I move day to day throughout the unit.  These activities include the use of technology, manipulatives, Thinking Maps, Cornell notes, lab investigations, creative projects and writing conclusions or summary statements on their Cornell notes (we call these our AH HA moments).

What did you think/hope your students would say about you after they left your class? 

I believe my students would say that I was someone who never wavered from the high expectations I had for them regarding their academic performance and their personal behavior.  They would say I was “tough”, consistent, treated them with respect and that I was straight forward and honest with them. They knew what to expect every day and they felt comfortable in my room. I also hope that they would be able to verbalize to others that they saw how much I cared about them and how much I enjoyed my “job”. They would say that I taught them more than just science. 

Describe your best day as a teacher.  What made this day so significant?     

I saw a quote in the gym when I was working out that said, “Your goal is not far if you believe in yourself.”  This is exactly what I want my students to know and understand as they leave my class and move on to 10thgrade.  My best day as a teacher comes in small parts rather than a whole.  It is when I see a student’s confidence build, when a student who never makes eye contact finally is assured and feels safe enough in the room to look at me or his classmates, when students interact with each other with respect, when a student earns a score on a test that he/she never thought they were able to achieve, when I am talking with a student about her importance to the group she is in and she understands well enough that her leadership is important that she says, “Oh, you mean I am the glue”. 

Some of her colleagues shared the following when nominating her for teacher of the year.

“She does whatever it takes to make each student achieve their best. She is great at analyzing data, the whole student, and searching for the best method or strategy to meet their needs.”

“As test coordinator, she helped me with a student lacking motivation.  She made a connection with him in about 3 seconds.  At once he was open with her and laughing at jokes, and I think it was because she made it clear IMMEDIATELY that she CARED about him.  It was a very impressive thing to watch.”

“She is the kind of person who gets things done without asking, which I really am trying to emulate.  While I am trying to figure out what people what me to do, she is in the process of doing it!”

“I am constantly amazed by the fact that she is knee deep in at least 4 or 5 major projects and is usually in charge of at least half of those projects.  However, it was not until today that I truly realized her strengths when I saw her go after a REAL student problem.”

Alrubail (2015) Edutopia article, The Heart of Teaching: What It Means to Be a Great Teacher” provides characteristics of a great teacher.

You are…My sister
KindYou show kindness to students, colleagues, parents, and those around you.Yes
CompassionateYou show feelings of understanding and concern.Yes
EmpatheticYou put yourself in someone’s shoes and see things from their perspective. Yes
PositiveYou stay positive when it’s tough and this has a tremendous positive impact on the students and everyone.Yes
A builderYou bridge gaps and build relationships, friendships, and a community. You look to make things better and improve things in and outside of the classroom. Yes
InspirationalYou uncover hidden treasures, possibilities, and magic. Yes

A great teacher is an educator. It seems to me that we are all learners and educators whether we are directly connected to an educational institution or not.  I believe we can be kind, compassionate, empathetic, positive, a builder, and inspirational throughout our life. Working in an educational setting as I did, my sister, my family members, my friends, and others provides us the opportunity to make a difference. Let’s hope that we continue that work once we depart the boundaries of the campus.

I followed Timmy’s suggestion to list my “teachers” from the past. My list included not only classroom teachers but also administrators, colleagues, friends. It was easy to determine which of those individuals on the list were my “educators”. Many of the most influential “educators” in my life held a position other than teacher. I encourage you to listen the TEDxYouth Talk. Then create your own list.

My questions to you are:

**Who are the people who have done the most to influence your personal development?

**In what ways were they influential?

**Are you a teacher OR an educator??

“The greatest good you can do for another
is not just to share your riches,
but to reveal to him his own.”

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