LimmudNY: The Responsibility of the Teacher

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When you’re attending four or five sessions a day at a conference like LimmudNY, you start to compile an internal list of what makes a good teacher. Now, a good teacher at an event like Limmud is different from a good teacher in a regular classroom, or a college lecture hall. The age range in any class is pretty wide, and so are the skill and background levels. People pay a lot of money to be here, but they don’t feel any real obligation to respect the teachers because the same teachers will be students in the next session. Also, everyone really wants to be schmoozing and eating at all times, and will do both of those things throughout every session if given the opportunity. So it takes a different kind of teacher to be really successful at Limmud. Here are my thoughts on why the good teachers are good, and what separates the good from the great

The marks of a good teacher:
–Has a deep knowledge of the subject at hand and demonstrates it without diverging from the topic constantly. If you’re teaching a 75 minute session you should know at least three hours worth of material.
–Can manage time effectively. If you have 75 minutes to teach and you show up with two packets that are each five pages of sources, you’re deluding yourself.
–Can deal with the stupids without allowing class to be derailed. You’re giving a class on Zionist thought among twelfth century Welsh monks and some guy in the back asks a ten minute question about Alan Dershowitz and the Shas party? If you can politely shut this guy up you are the hero to everyone else in the session.
–Actually has something interesting to say. If your point is that sometimes Moses wasn’t as good of a guy as we were told he was in Hebrew school, you are either not smart enough to be teaching, or no trying hard enough.

A great teacher
–Feels no need to be an entertainer, but is still entertaining. You’re not the MC of a circus, and cracking wise doesn’t make you seem any smarter if you’re clearly BSing. If you happen to be naturally funny, go with it. If not, don’t keep trying.
–Has a whole fresh perspective to offer, as opposed to a nice nugget of information.
–Isn’t reading entire presentation off of lecture cards, or source sheet.
–Keeps the session accessible to people with little background in the topic area, while keeping it interesting for people with high level of background in the area.

Posted on January 17, 2011

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