Head of School Blog

How Learning to Drive Taught Me the Power of Great Teaching

Jill Singleton
Although I have some happy memories of spending time with my dad, driving in his impeccably preserved Volkswagen Karmann Ghia and receiving my first driving lesson in that car was anything but pleasant. My dad, who never enjoyed being a student – let alone a teacher – pulled over to the shoulder of the Garden State Parkway and told me to change seats with him. Using the minimalist graphic on his mint-condition gear shift, Dad gave me a super-condensed description of how the gears and clutch worked together, and then told me to pull out, being careful to use my blinker. I don’t remember how I actually got out onto the highway, but somehow I did, and just when I was coasting along in fourth gear and started to exhale, my father handed me a couple of coins and said, “You’ll need this at the toll.” As you can imagine, coordinating the window lever, gear shift, clutch, brake and coins all proved to be too much for me, and I stalled at the threshold of the toll booth. Within mere seconds the horns started honking behind me, and I quickly reached my breaking point. Being completely unable to find the calm needed to try again, I quickly changed seats with my father. After an awkwardly silent ride home, I talked to my mom about my disastrous experience, and she generously offered to pay for professional driving lessons. In the hands of an experienced teacher, I was able to learn to drive with ease. I started out with little confidence, but in almost no time at all was able to build up my confidence as my skills increased. This experience was for me a textbook case in the difference a good teacher can make. I’m sure Dad’s driving skills rivaled or exceeded those of my driving teacher, but my father had no ability to recognize or understand what I needed in order to learn the concepts and skills that were certainly second nature for him.

Although much has been written about teacher evaluation and the characteristics that make a great teacher, I’ve developed my own set of standards which guide me in the hiring process. From my perspective, great teachers are:

Inspirational: Great teachers have a natural ability to incite joy and wonder in their students. Their words and actions, along with the activities they plan, inspire children to learn more – to develop a true hunger for learning. The love of learning demonstrated by great teachers is simply contagious.

Fair: Great teachers understand that “fair” does not mean that everyone receives the same thing, but that everyone receives what they need. By differentiating their approach to instruction, or implementing individualized strategies to help each student achieve, great teachers ensure that each and every student benefits from their time, energy and creativity.

Organized: Great teachers understand the importance of paying attention to the smallest details. They get the most mileage out of every moment they have with their students, keeping unnecessary downtime and multiple explanations to a minimum.

Passionate: Great teachers understand the importance of their work and recognize the positive impact they are having on their students, school community, and the larger world. They are not driven by financial reward, but have chosen careers into which they feel “called.”

Over the years I have seen and experienced poor teachers, mediocre teachers, good teachers and great teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching and learning in schools in various states and in other countries, and I’ve visited countless other schools over the course of my career. It gives me a tremendous sense of pride and satisfaction to say that I have NEVER seen a school like All Saints, where every teacher strives for greatness, and upholds the highest standards for excellence. As my teenage sons begin to ask about learning to drive, I am reminded of the powerful impact teachers have on our lives – both negatively and positively – and I am filled with a profound sense of appreciation for the dedicated team of excellent teachers who call All Saints their school home.

Thoughts? Comments? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com