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The 3 Traits of the Greatest Teachers

The 3 Traits of the Greatest Teachers

Posted by Warrior Poet Society on Jun 14th 2024

What does it take to be a great teacher? I want to answer this all-important question, because if you’ve ever had a really inspirational, motivating and life-changing teacher or instructor, they left an indelible mark on you that you're still carrying with you.

The Bible says “not many of you should be teachers” and I’d have to agree, because I’ve had my share of bad ones—like the calculus teacher with the heavy German accent and a lack of understanding or interest in who his students were. My first and only day in his class consisted of watching him fill a chalk board with things I had no way of understanding at the time.

But I’ve also had a handful of great ones. They shaved years off the learning curve and unlocked an area of knowledge that helped me see the world in a different and truer way. They made the difference between winning and losing in a particular field.

And what does this have to do with Warrior Poets? Well, it's the whole Train Hard. Train Smart. ethic. It's about taking the right road toward integrity in life and mastery in the warrior skills, and the right road begins with the right teachers.

I hope these teacher qualities help you find the right "masters" to train under. And if you some day find yourself (perhaps you already have and you likely will find yourself) passing your knowledge and experience to others, I hope you can develop these traits in yourself.

I Wish Everyone Could Have a Coach Allen

They even inspired greatness. I think of my high school wrestling coach—Coach Allen. He knew wrestling. Strategy. Body position. How to train. But most of all he carried gravitas with him to the job. He commanded respect. There was a force about him.

But he was never loud. Instead, he was able to unlock our minds so we could understand and put into practice the things he knew. And he could pack every moment of practice with the best articulation of the coolest moves.

He was inspiring but also had a bit of a mean streak in competition. I loved that about him. He’d inflict that mean streak on us at times so we could learn how to deploy it against opponents, and that was some of the most pain I’d ever experienced in my joints.

I can still remember this thoughtful practitioner and teacher who would get down to my ear at competitions and simply say “All right, John, just go out and attack him.” I was expecting some more of his eloquent, elegant strategy to follow, but he knew that I just needed to put his hours of instruction into practice and he knew I could do it.

Trait #1 of the Greatest Teachers: Integrity

This is the foundation of what separates the greatest teachers from everyone else. Who you are as a person is who you’ll ultimately be as a teacher and it’s what you’ll see playing out in your students. The two cannot be separated. In other words, the greatest teachers have built upon a foundation of integrity.

Humility is the foundation of integrity. Humble teachers are like a breath of fresh, oxygen-infused air. They don’t humble brag. They’ll likely only reveal about a 10th of what they know, because they understand the level of understanding among their students. They’re not afraid to admit what they don’t know . And they’re always open to learning and seeing the subject from different perspectives.

Often, it’s pretty easy to spot a teacher who doesn’t have humility. They have fragile egos. They want you to know how smart they are. They often communicate insecurity by making themselves the center of instruction in their own little universe.

Fortunately, they’re usually detestable to be around. People can't stand them and will just quietly say “You suck. I'll find someone else."

Teachers of integrity are also people of strength. Quiet strength. They’re people of noble character and gravitas who are inviting students on a noble mission, and they want to equip their students toward success on that mission.

They don’t need to resort of obnoxious behavior or demeaning words. They understand the power of words and they use their words wisely to empower. They understand that education isn’t just about information devoid of ultimate meaning and this ultimate meaning comes through even in the chemistry they create in the room.

RELATED | George Washington Knew the Power of Words

In other words, the greatest teachers are also, in their way, great leaders. They are the great war generals and the greatest leaders of organizations and churches. They are the Coach Allens of high school athletics. They are humbling to be around because they are channeling noble causes greater than themselves.

This isn’t something you can fake because it’s a quality that is developed only through their own strife and difficulty, struggle, experience, character, and spiritual growth.

And though it’s all slightly intangible, it’s the person about whom it’s often said, "That's the guy that I'll break my back for, and I don't even understand why."

Trait #2 of the Greatest Teachers: Mastery

It’s very possible for the seemingly most experienced and knowledgeable among us to fall prey to the Dunnig Krueger Effect—attributing mastery and high performance to ourselves despite our ignorance.

This is why it takes integrity and humility to truly know a certain area of study. Humility produces the curiosity that hubris seeks to destroy. So when the truly humble and curious person commits to teaching, he has a firm grasp on his knowledge base and on his areas of weakness.

In turn, he’s honest with himself and with his students and it’s that honesty throughout his own learning that led him to his level of knowledge and achievement. His words have weight and refinement. The chaff has been burned away so they are able to distill complicated things down into morsels of understanding.

This is mastery. These teachers can argue for or against whatever they're putting out. They're quick to ask follow up questions. "Well, what are you trying to accomplish?” “What's your context?" The greatest teachers are masters who want to lead others to mastery. The greatest teachers are able to say the words “I don’t know” and they’ll know whether it’s worth their time to find out.

Trait #3 of the Greatest Teachers: Powerful Clarity

This is the trait most people value most because it’s most visible of all the attributes. And it’s important. Can they communicate eloquently, with audience sensitivity, so that their students can stay engaged and understand.

Attention spans are short and they’re only getting shorter, so if you can’t clearly communicate in a way that helps people care and understand then you’ll experience a lot of missed opportunities.

Powerful clarity requires empathy for your listeners. Atmosphere and audience makeup should shape the way you present material, which sometimes might just mean showing rather than telling.

Coach Allen twisted us into pretzels on the mat at times because pain was a better teacher than eloquence. At times he spoke like a sage. But most of all he understood how to teach us on a given day because he understood who he was teaching.

The greatest teachers end up as masters on multiple fronts—mastery of self, mastery of material, and a mastery of how to engage the minds of others. The last, of course, is made light years easier when you’ve already got the first two. People who respect you will listen to you. People with self-mastery and deep knowledge will command your respect.

Train Hard. Train Smart. Live Free. With Integrity.


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