This is the second of my two-part blog about Northeastern’s esteemed history professor, Dr. WIlliam Fowler. I had the good-fortune to study under him, and he had a profound impact on my life.
In today’s blog, Dr. Fowler, who has just retired, shares the key attribue for a teacher at any level to be considered truly great.
“Love your subject and your students,” he said. “If you love your subject, as I did, then you cherish it, you embrace it, you want to hone in on what you think is particularly important about it and, critically, you want to share it with others.”
“I’ve been in places with teachers in which you hear them make comments about their students that are quite startling. Those teachers are the exception but, when you hear them speak in a derogatory way about their students you think, my god, the students will definitely pick up on that negativity.”
Students are like sharks, said Fowler. They smell the blood and know when you like them and you’re interested. They also know when you’re prepared and when you’ve just thrown together a couple of slides and are winging it. Students know good teachers from bad.
Fowler says it’s also critical to know one’s students. “When a student comes to you or it’s obvious he’s struggling, the great teacher needs to be a patient listener. When a student is having a hard time, there’s almost always a story outside of the classroom that’s at the root cause.”
“I never let a troubled student leave without my having made an attempt, in the student’s presence, to call someone else on campus who can help. That’s what great teachers do.”
Happily, Professor Fowler never had to make that kind of call for me. But, I would argue that the attributes of a great teacher are almost identical to those of a great leader. I wouldn’t pretend to say I’m the latter, but I do love my subject. As for the people, let’s just say I like them. A lot.