An Ideal Teacher

Bob Blaisdell considers what perfection looks like to students.

December 1, 2009

I used to strive to be an ideal teacher, but I gave up, because not only could I not satisfy a single classroom, I couldn’t even maintain my ideality for smitten students who took me for a second course. If there were a teacher-god in Greek mythology, I would worship at that temple for guidance. Mentor, of course, is ideal, and he was ideal for Odysseus and Telemachos alike. But remember that Athena herself has to impersonate Mentor in order to instruct Telemachos. To be the ideal teacher of my students, who have come from all over the globe to our Brooklyn community college with various beliefs about teaching and learning, they would all have to have a hand in creating me. What a magnificent creature I would be!

Ideal Teacher is fluent in the first language of all of his students. He can explain arcane English grammar backwards and forwards and compare it to Mandarin or French; he sees the parallels of all human utterance. His thing isn’t language so much as divining the incomprehension each student has in her way. Ideal Teacher is continually murmuring “Ah!” as he surveys the classroom. “I see!” And he utters the perfect words (or projects the perfect expression from his twinkling face), and the enlightened student swoons, almost melts, with happy comprehension.

That’s Ideal Teacher.

In a more ideal world, Ideal Teacher has no gender, but we’re working from our limited human imagination here, and I wouldn’t want him to be a sideshow curiosity, as a double-sexed or neither-sexed being would be distracting. So, Ideal Teacher, the male version, is physically attractive -- but neither paternal nor sexy, avuncular rather and authoritative but also good-humored and funny -- very funny and very serious about his subject.

Ideal Teacher should not be too young or too old. He should not be too enthusiastic. (This subject, these books, cannot be his life-blood, can they?) He should be a handsome monk, but in civilian clothing. His clothing should not be too fashionable, and of course not odd, but it should be pleasing to look at. A perfect formal informality. His get-ups should not show too much flair; the student should not think of the giddy and clever and outrageously dressed teacher from the Magic School Bus. Id Tea’s hair should be neat and can have just a little bit of gray -- not a lot! He should not be bald -- that’s either a weakness or rather too suggestive of nakedness. His face, however, should be clean-shaven, the delicate creases of his delight and pleasure at being in his students’ company revealing themselves more obviously thereby.

Ideal Teacher inspires and never nags. Students do the classwork and homework not only because they love him but because, through his teaching, they come to love the subject. Ideal Teacher is somehow never an object of romantic love. I return to this, as do the student-creators of Ideal Teacher, because there is necessarily something sexless about him. He is, however, not so sexless as to be contemptible. But the students never ever have to think of him having a sex life, and none of his jokes ever suggest his own pleasure or experience in sexual activity. He never ever gets distracted when he sees a pair of bare twitchy female legs or the depthless slopes of cleavage! Of course he doesn’t look! He is above and beyond such primitive responses.

If he has children -- this is tricky -- it is better that they were adopted by him and his wife, who -- I didn’t make this up, the students did -- is dead. He is a widower, thereby sympathetic, but his children are out of the house, because he has no other life, really, than the students in his class.

And of course he has other classes! But the students in one class are never aware of and thereby not jealous of the ones in the others. If he has to miss a class (and each semester he should miss a couple, whenever several of the students are having a bad day or medical appointments or just really would appreciate that gift of an hour’s holiday), everyone hears about it ahead of time and doesn’t have to cross campus to find out. If a student is low or down and needs him, Id Tea is always in his office. He is also glimpsed once in a while in the hallways and also passing through the cafeteria. He can drink juice or water, maybe coffee, but it’s better if he doesn’t. He really shouldn’t eat. Ideal Teacher has to eat, but not when a student can see, because what if his diet includes the pork or beef or meat or vegetables or protein-matter that the student disapproves of? In any case, an Ideal who eats human food is disgusting and he really shouldn’t.

After school (he shouldn’t live there, not on campus or on a cot in his office), Ideal Teacher can be seen leaving but he absolutely does not take public transportation! He does not share the grim bus ride to the subway or the impatient rush-hour subway ride towards the city. He does not sit shoulder to shoulder with Brooklynites and mark papers while sipping and sloshing coffee and eating a crumbling cookie. Banish the thought! No bus, no train. He has a car, and it’s an unusual car -- not too expensive, but cute and funny. He does not live too close to the college.

What he does at home or when he’s not teaching is never mentioned or suggested. He does not talk about “back in the day” or ever sound confused about iPods or texting or anything electronic. He is accessible by e-mail but not on Twitter. Ideal Teacher, when telling jokes, is always funny and never misunderstood. Jonathan, for example, does not have to think a moment before he realizes Ideal Teacher’s only kidding! All of his jokes are hilarious, but somehow they’re also warm and everyone is reassured by these jokes -- that we’re all human and fallible. So Ideal Teacher is as funny as Bill Cosby, and he can wear loud sweaters if wants to. His wit always saves his students from embarrassment and awkwardness. It unites students and if he targets a particular student, the gentle barb tickles. The corrected student laughs without shame and is only momentarily embarrassed. He sees before him an open path back into the good graces of his classmates and of course the professor himself. There is a hazy bliss that descends every day or two in class, wherein all the students realize they love him and they love their classmates and they love everyone in the world equally -- everyone realizes their boundless humility and tolerance -- and the whole class and Ideal Teacher sit for long moments in the glow of mutual respect and appreciation.

Ideal Teacher, this combination of Bill Cosby and the Dalai Lama with a dash or two of the latest superhero, is an angel of light. He will live forever and he was never born.


Bob Blaisdell is a professor of English at City University of New York’s Kingsborough Community College.


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