If I were allowed to choose the teachers for my children, I would almost always choose the teachers with the greatest variation of life experience.
Give me a teacher who has dug ditches in Nicaragua, survived an encounter with a grizzly bear, panhandled across Europe, or spent ten years working in the private sector over a teacher who went from high school to college to graduate school to the classroom, absent catastrophe, epic struggle, or life-altering cataclysm.
This is not to say that the traditional path to teaching produces bad teachers. I know many outstanding teachers who have followed this traditional approach. I simply place more faith in a diversity of life experience and the perspective that it brings than I do in a stable life and a college education.
As Mark Twain famously said, “I never let school interfere with my education.”
Some of the very best teachers who I have ever known came to teaching from the most unorthodox and challenging routes imaginable.
These are the teachers who are confident enough to both take enormous risks and constantly ask for help.
These are the teachers who easily distinguish between what is important to learning and what is meaningless fluff.
These are the teachers who know which corners can be cut and which are critical to the success of their students.
These are the teachers who demand great things from their students and know how to shut their mouths and get out of the way in order to allow those students to exceed expectations.
These teachers tend to be unflappable, remarkably resilient, highly efficient, supremely independent, and beloved by their students.
In the words of one of my fictional characters, these are the teachers who teach school rather than play school.
High school to college to graduate school may transform you into a great teacher. But a diversity of life experience, a broad and varied perspective of the world, and a life of epic struggle, cataclysmic failure, and modest success is what I would look for first if choosing a teacher.
This is what I hope to find in my children’s teachers, far more than advanced degrees in education from the finest universities.
I thought this TED Talk demonstrated the importance and value of a diversity of perspective perfectly. It’s a stark reminder of how easy it is to assume that you and the people around you are the norm, especially when you and the people around you have always been you and the people around you.