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What makes a great teacher? I recently took some coding classes at the local public library. As a bonus, I observed at close hand the essential qualities of a great teacher.

For the past two years, I’ve thought, “I need to learn coding”. After all, there is positively a dictum these days that the illiterates of the 21st century are those who can’t code. Even Michael Bloomberg says so.

There are so many online coding courses. Yet I never progressed beyond wishful thinking. Why? I was intimidated by it. I’d think, “People spend years at specialized schools to become computer engineers and web designers. The learning curve teeters ahead of me at an impossible angle. There’s no way I can even get started”.

I decided I needed to get over my inhibitions and just plunge into it. In that spirit, I enrolled at the free coding classes available to the local public library. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t easy for me to sign up. I spent the past weekend at the local library. Four classes over the two days. Enter Carlos Paz, a great teacher.

HTML, CSS, Javascript. I cannot think of a more uninspiring, dehydrated word salad. Carlos Paz. Warm, collegial, collaborative, accommodating, easygoing, and endlessly patient. These qualities exemplified Carlos, our teacher. He made these dry subjects accessible and non-threatening to all of us students. The notion that we were all learning together, even he. Explain to demystify. Explain again to demystify. Creating an atmosphere of trust and comfort. The unspoken assertion, “Don’t worry. I’m here to make sure you don’t fall (fail)”. As our classes progressed, I saw how each and every student came out of their shell, participating actively in the exercises, asking questions, helping each other out. Everyone. The older woman, owner of a flower shop. The older retired gentleman. The young career woman. The D-I-Y immigrant with English as a second language. Different ages, different educational backgrounds, different work experiences. None of these differences mattered. In short, Carlos actively and mindfully created and sustained over those two days the methods necessary to empower each student in taking charge of their own learning process. Non-threatening! I saw how important it is to be non-threatening to be a good, nay great teacher.

Sure, we were a small group of motivated individuals, self-selected by our commitment to learn coding. As a scientist, I’m aware of the caveat while singing the praises of this particular teacher. The caveat of how to motivate the unmotivated student. Nevertheless, surely some essential clues to the alchemy of a great teacher lie in simply carefully analyzing and cataloging the teaching process of great teachers like Carlos Paz? Policy makers, politicians and education tsars endlessly argue and pontificate how a great education system needs great teachers. We already have the key. How do great teachers like Carlos Paz teach? How do mediocre and average teachers teach? Compare and contrast. Then select and/or train more Carlos Paz’. Because of Carlos, I’m no longer intimidated by coding. Ah, the alchemy of a great teacher!

Post by Tirumalai Kamala:

The Alchemy of a Great Teacher

The Alchemy of a Great Teacher

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