Teachers: The most important presenters in the world.

Science is a passion for me because of a grade 11, night school chemistry teacher.  This was more than 20 years ago.  And I’m still a science junkie.

“Marco, do you see it?  Everything…all matter…all thought…all emotions…everything…just an interplay of atoms, electrons and stuff we haven’t found yet.  The whole of everything can be explained with the scientific process; hypothesis, method, observation, and conclusion.  Absolutely perfect.  Everything is explained by science.  I guarantee you, in 20 years, the gadgets you’ll be using will be like magic to us now”

Mr. Heinola, wherever you are, you’re still awesome.

Good teachers teach because they love to teach.   Good teachers teach because they feel a responsibility and an obligation to improve the world. Good teachers can set the course for humanity. Without teachers, we’d have no doctors, no builders, no scientists, nothing.  Without teachers, there’s no progress.  A teacher knows that she won’t reach everybody.  She can only reach those who want to be reached.  But she tries anyways.  From teaching a band of children how to hunt in the Neolithic, to teaching young physicists how to smash protons today, teachers have held the most important role in all of humanity.

Your typical Tweet: Can't wait for drinks tonight! Sagan's typical Tweet: Discovered new galaxy. Si-based life?!

But not all teachers are great.  Most are forgettable.  Some are downright awful.  This is no different from any other profession.  It only takes a little extra to be extraordinary but few will do the extra because ‘they’re not paying me for it.”  The difference though is in your responsibility to those you teach.  Anybody can teach a lesson plan.  Not everybody can make a lesson plan come to life.  Like any other presenter, if you don’t care, your audience won’t either.  And man, have I suffered through teachers who didn’t give a damn; from elementary right until I finished my degree.

As a presenter, my job is 1. Show you something.  and 2. Don’t bore you while I’m showing you.

If you’re teaching me something, or more importantly, if you’re teaching my son, this is what I hope to see from you.  (And no, I don’t need a teaching degree to point these out.  I’m your student.  I’m the buyer.  If you don’t connect, you’ve failed, not me.)

1.  Did you actually care about your message? As lame as this sounds, at some point in the teaching, I’d like to be able to spot a twinkle in your eyes.  At some point, I’d like to see you dive deep into the material and start improvising.  I want to see you go deep and show me something that’s not according to plan.  Show me that you know more than the lesson plan.  And make me feel that you’re as appreciative for the opportunity to teach me as I am appreciative of the opportunity to learn from you.  You can’t fake this.  Mr. Heinola never faked it.  The guy loved science.  He was so authentic, that you can’t stop being drawn into the lesson.

2. Did you make me laugh?  If you can make me laugh, you can make me buy.  Laughter is the most effective connector between people.  It doesn’t matter if you speak Swahili and I speak Greek, laughter is universal.  It indicates approval.  It drops the resistance of the listener.  Bad teachers teach like they’re reciting something; not caring if what they are saying is resonating.  Bad teachers focus on themselves.  Good teachers focus on the audience.  They know the energy of the room.  They know where some light-hearted humour might be needed to soften up the crowd before a particularly heavy bit of teaching.  They walk into the room looking forward to entertaining everybody so folks learn without feeling that they’re being taught.  Heinola made us laugh our butts off.

3.  Do you actually care about me?  Understand this: It’s not what you want to sell, it’s what I want to buy.  Teaching is selling without a transaction.  In the end, unless you ask, you won’t know if I bought your message.  A good teacher will know who wants to get it but can’t versus those who don’t care.  A good teacher will always do a little extra to find out.  Mr. Heinola spotted me flipping my textbook shut with a flourish.  The lesson was on REDOX reactions.  I remember despairing and hating to learn about ‘crap I would never use.’  This was night school which meant I had near-failed the same course during day school.  I was 15 and the only thing I cared about was meeting that ‘niner girl’ after class.  Heinola kept me after class that evening.

“Marco, you’re not stupid.   Why do you act stupid?”

After 10 minutes of being berated for lack of initiative, and generally being an ass, he left me with “It’s your life.  I’m just here to help in the tiniest way possible.”

Mr. Heinola, I’m pleased to report that I finished as an Ontario Scholar in high school and completed a degree in Zoology.  Now I raise money for engineers, scientists and inventors so they can keep on inventing things.

Turns out that the ‘tiniest way possible’ changed everything.

Thanks man.  Sorry about the stuff on your chair…