What makes a teacher? I don't have any pixels to scatter on the whys and wherefores of that question that could possibly improve on anything anyone's said before. I do reflect often, though, on that quality of a teacher which might not be measurable but which can be recognized, the quality that says: I care about my students' learning. Aptitude, talent, skills, experience and even the "calling" to the profession only bear fruit in the relationship of teacher and student. When it's there, and when it's genuine, it's consecrated, the Buber Ich-Du. And when it's not, in the indifference of someone holding the mantle but just "phoning it in," it's jarring, a tragedy. All the more reason why I appreciate and give silent thanks, every day, for all those who have been true teachers to me and to my children.
Many years on, I remember my first schoolteacher, Miss Smith (conveniently pseudonymous—but that really was her name). I was in her kindergarten class in Grand Rapids for less than a year before my family's mid-year reassignment to California and another Air Force base, but the days in her classroom were formative, and some relics of those days are vivid still: 'teacher's helper' for the day getting to fetch the manila folders (should be vanilla folders, we thought) for teacher, teacher asking us to draw "a girl and her dog named Cookie" (some of us drew dogs, and some of us drew cookies), and me struggling to fold a piece of paper exactly in half ('Can't fold it right' : 'Yes, you can.'). Miss Smith was young and no-nonsense, but with a warm and gentle manner. I remember how Miss Smith smiled and kissed me on the forehead when my mother and I came to school for the last time to say goodbye.
For Miss Smith—and for all teachers whose aim is true—a song that just never gets old: