Blog Post

Who's Your Favorite Teacher--and Why?

Can a MOOC replace your favorite teacher?  That's what we are trying to find out.  We are wondering what makes a great teacher--and is this something that can be accomplished online?   The whole reason to do this MOOC is to find out answers, not to confirm our own preconceptions so, instead of just say, "Nah! No Way!" we began by interviewing twenty or thirty people and asking the question, "Who's Your Favorite Teacher--and Why?"

In the MOOC I'm starting in January, on  "The History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education," are interwoven these interviews posing the favorite teacher responses and then we'll turn that around and ask the 50,000 or so students anticipated for this MOOC.  We'll ask them to post their own responses in text or video.   And in one of the Forums, we'll ask if they think a MOOC could ever be someone's favorite teacher.  Is that possible?  Why?  Why not? 

We interviewed many people about their favorite teacher--some are friends, some are random strangers met on a blustery day in DC, and some are quite eminent people at the height of their careers.   Interestingly, we've only found one person who said they didn't have a favorite teacher, even defined broadly and metaphorically.  I found myself feeling sad for them.  For everyone else, the answer was either "oh, I can think of a few" (we encouraged more than one if they wanted).  And it was usually emotional to think about a favorite teacher and the special thing they taught you that continues to be relevant in your everday life.


There was nothing predictable about the answers.  Except:   No one we asked said, "X is my favorite teacher because s/he helped me make a perfect SAT score."  And no one said, "X is my favorite teacher because s/he really helped me master Y [quadratic equations, tort law, ancient Greek, etc]."  


If neither specific content nor standardized and measurable test scores are why we remember our teachers into our everday adult lives, then what does make a great teacher?

If you watch the videos you will find lots of surprising and inspiring responses, very tender (one even made me tear up!), very touching.  Something warm and gooey happens in voices when you ask adults who was their favorite teacher.  It is as if they remember that moment, that very special time (even for the bad students such as myself) when a teacher reached out, when a teacher saw who you were, and gave that recognition back to you.   As a gift.  As something you could hold close to your heart for a long, long, long time.   Someone nearing 80 got a lump in his throat remembering someone who helped him out when he was 12, at a very difficult moment.  

You remember those human moments. 

Inspiration, motivation, and, mainly, we found in our interviews, a favorite teacher has an ability to tell you , the student, something deep about how you learn, about what constitutes knowledge, and about your own abilities to master and use knowledge to make a better understanding of your world:   those are the kinds of things people said about classroom teachers, counsellors, friends, parents, situations, even children. 

What we are wondering with this meta-MOOC and with this whole much more complex HASTAC Initiative on the future of higher education is:  can you really be that kind of teacher online?   Can you massively scale inspiration?  Can you massive scale empowerment?  Can you massively scale deep new ways of understanding the world?


We will be asking the MOOC students this question.   And we'll be able to see their answers on YouTube videos or in the course Forums.   I have no idea what people will say, but I know that their participation, already makes this a better experience, a better way of teaching and (as is our HASTAC motto) of "learning the future together."


If you have a moment, why not use the comment box below to make a tribute today.  "Who's YOUR favorite teacher--and why?"


MOOC, starts Jan 27, six weeks:   History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education:  (Register for the MOOC here.)

HASTAC's #FutureEd initiative:



My high school math teacher, Mr. Boast, was my favorite teacher. He led us through trigonometry, pre-calculus, and discrete math every day, but he also challenged us to think in new ways and to develop our character. He was a great math teacher because he connected the ideas behind the math (can you really understand calculus without a complete theoretical understanding of the unit circle?). But he was a great mentor because of the other things - from his expectations for high schoolers to be respectful, compassionate, and ethical to the Far Side cartoons and riddles he'd hang outside his door each day. 

I think those kinds of traits and mentorship could be difficult to integrate into a MOOC. But, we'll see what ideas your students develop!


Anonymous (not verified)

Mr. Coplon (back in 1988-1989) made pre-calculus make sense - and he made it fun and engaging.  His sense of humour and his ability to teach to the individual student while still making sure the entire class was involved and learning was incredible.  It was a class that I will never forget.  He always made sure we understood the WHY behind the math rather than just memorizing a formula.