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Changing the world by expecting excellence

Working for an education nonprofit, I subscribe to numerous updates, email blasts and e-newsletters from various other education organizations, including studentsfirst the nonprofit set up by the controversial Michelle Rhee after she left the Chancellorship of D.C. Public Schools.  Regardless of your opinions of Michelle Rhee, this most recent update from studentsfirst is worth a look.  The organization asked its members to submit an essay on what makes a great teacher - in just SIX WORDS!

They've narrowed the 28,000 essays down to 30 finalists, and are asking members to vote for their favorites.  Whether you are a member or not, check out the entries from the 30 finalists - I guarantee they will invoke memories of some of the best teachers you learned from.  Here are some of my favorites:
 
Encouraging the discouraged to defy obstacles.
Handing out keys to the world.
Changing the world by expecting excellence.
Selflessly dedicated to someone else's success.
Challenge limitations. Raise expectations. Inspire achievement.
Instill knowledge; invoke passion; inspire greatness.

As I read these, I couldn't help but remember my 10th grade Honors English teacher, Mr. Jonas.  The first paper I ever wrote in his class (an essay on the play, "The Crucible") came back with notes and slash marks strewn throughout, and a C (a letter I had never before seen on a piece of my work) scribbled on the top.   One of the reasons Mr. Jonas was a great teacher is that he challenged limitations, raised expectations, and inspired achievement.  A student never had to accept a grade as final and move on to the next assignment; there was always opportunity to improve and resubmit an essay. But Mr. Jonas made you work for it.  He never handed out explicit instructions for how to make a point stronger, rather he explained what was wrong and why and then left the student to the task of figuring out how to change it.  Because Mr. Jonas set such high expectations and pushed me to develop as a writer, I was prepared to rise to the challenges set by my 12th grade Honors English teacher, Mr. Stein, whom students feared for his notoriously harsh critiques and high standards of student writing.
 
I was also reminded of my AP Calculus teacher, Ms. Merkert.  A brilliant woman, who actually wrote some of the contents of our textbook, Ms. Merkert was selflessly dedicated to her students' success.  She had a liberal open-door policy - before and after school and during every prep period, she was there to answer questions and explain concepts as many times and in as many ways as necessary for her students to achieve understanding. And that didn't change after graduation.  When I stopped by her classroom during my freshman year of college, she took the time to explain a couple of problems I was working on in my Calculus 2 course.

Throughout my K-12 experience, I was blessed with many outstanding teachers - too many to recount in a single blog post.  And I'm sure many of you have fond memories of the teachers who positively influenced your success as well.  The deadline for the six-word essay contest may have passed, but at JPEF we would love hear your thoughts on what makes a great teacher.  Just "Add a Comment" to this blog post to share your memories and/or six-word descriptions.
-Carly