Teacher friend Brian Millar contributes to my project of defining a good teacher by adding his own reminiscences:
My grade 1 teacher, Miss M. She was a kindly grey-haired old lady who had been doing it for years. I think she had a normal certificate which meant she had two years of education beyond high school, such as it was on the prairies in the 30's. When she discovered I was reading novels from the children’s library upon entering grade 1, she made a deal with me. I could read my own book under the desk as long as I followed along and read Run, Spot, Run (which I thought was horrendously stupid and a waste of time) when my time came. She had turtle races on the window ledges and bunnies and hamsters in the class (note - livestock in any form is not permitted in today’s politically-correct schools). She kissed our boo boo's, put on twenty five pair of mitts and boots at two recesses, lunch and going-home times, and was generally a saint. I think even the newly immigrated kids (mostly German and Italian, right after the war) learned to read, speak English and do their arithmetic.
Based on your description, I think the divine Miss M. exemplifies the following four points:
1. Not disciplinarian; gives students their head and their dignity as much as possible consistent with good order.
2. Loose with curriculum; avoids the assembly-line for a more relaxed, holistic approach, open to the real world outside the classroom.
3. Varies her teaching techniques and experiments with new material and approaches.
4. Shows an interest in her students as individuals.
She might have been weak on general knowledge, or might not. BM notes that she had only two years past high school in formal education. But possession of a degree is only an indication. She might have been self-taught. As were Shakespeare, Einstein, Walt Disney, or Bill Gates.
My grade 8 teacher was a fellow by the name of L. B. He was a Maori from New Zealand and the first person of colour I had ever had any experience with. He was a jazz musician good enough to replace Oscar Petersen in his trio when he was sick. He drove a Volvo P1800 convertible and was in love with our skinny English teacher, whom I hated. He taught us history and music, but mostly he taught us whatever came on any given day. We were a "gifted" class and finished our official curriculum in about 15 minutes. He had some of the druids in his music class – who, compared to my group, were dumb as posts. He still inspired them with quizzes on cars, on music, on sports ... and he genuinely seemed to like and understand them, possibly because he grew up rough himself. He brought anthropologists and musicians to school as guest speakers.
We had one student who was from Alabama ... still had the accent. She almost got thrown out of school the first week when she loudly declared no nigger was teaching her or telling her what to do. He changed her attitude and mind so much she bawled her eyes out in June when we learned he was going to Toronto.
Mr. B was obviously not a stickler for the curriculum, showed an interest in his students as individuals, varied his teaching techniques, and was not a disciplinarian. Also, it seems clear, he was very knowledgeable.
Mr. A was my grade 10 drama and social studies teacher. By many standards he was incompetent. You could get him talking about local flora and fauna or the geography of the region at the drop of the hat when you were supposed to be studying dates and names from the War of 1812. Thing was everyone listened and he turned more than a few people on to being curious about one subject or another. His real strength was Drama. He took three groups from a crummy little prairie town to the Dominion Drama Festival finals. He had us doing stuff in high school that nobody our age should have even touched.
Not a stickler for the curriculum. Sounds too as though he must have been an entertaining speaker; otherwise how did he hold student attention? Also surely demonstrated broad general knowledge as well as considerable skill in his official subject, drama.
So far, it sounds to me as though my description of good teachers from memory is holding up. I hope more will chime in.