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Master teachers, peak performers cut from same cloth

October 27, 2011 9:39 PM
By GARY LONG/The Brownsville Herald

Teachers and prospective teachers attending the 2011 Ahead of the Future conference at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College got some expert guidance Thursday on becoming great teachers.

Robert Arnove, the Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, led a morning session about master teachers and the character traits they share with peak performers in classical music and jazz, opera, modern dance, chess and mathematics, swimming and diving, and the culinary arts.

Arnove shared observations and insights gleaned through writing his book, “Talent Abounds: Profiles of Master Teachers and Peak Performers,” published in 2010.

He said master teachers possess ability:

“To detect immediately what technical or conceptual problems students have, what students are capable of, and the precise challenge or set of tasks that will enable them to reach the next level of performance.

“To break down complex problems into specific steps and provide the tools essential to accomplish those specific tasks, eventually leading to peak performance.”

But he said that master teachers do not want clones. They tend to care for the total person and are generous people.

The book studies the Japanese “National Living Treasures” program for teaching the arts of sword polishing and puppetry, respectively. Strictness and rigor were found to produce the best results, along with “more scolding than praise,” he said, adding that “public scolding” after a puppetry performance was especially effective.

In Japanese puppetry, three puppeteers control the puppet: the master puppeteer controls the head and right foot, but only begins doing so after serving internships of 12 years each controlling the head and right arm, and the left foot, respectively.

The lesson for U.S. teachers is that rigor works, he said.

Arnove said master teachers in the public schools tend to be empathetic and passionate, have a deep respect for each student and “believe that the potential of each student can be developed.”

The book also explores learning commonalties in the intercollegiate swimming and diving program at Indiana University. Arnove said coaches in the program applied the principles of physics, resulting in six consecutive national championships.

He said he found that master teachers share these characteristics with peak performers:

They often start early, often as a result of family influences.

They have a passionate love of their vocation — the instrument or the sport they play, the body of knowledge with which they are engaged — often to the point of being obsessively involved.

They are perfectionists.

They are curious people, exploring in depth not only their own field but also other often seemingly unrelated domains.

Over time each develops a personal vision and a distinctive signature or individual voice that is highly valued by others.

They are high-energy people, performing and teaching well into their 70s in fields outside sports.

The College of Education at UTB-TSC is sponsoring the Ahead of the Future conference, which continues today and Saturday.

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