"Teacher Magic": The Truth about Great Teachers

Great teaching, like great coaching, cannot be reduced to a series of methods. And there is nothing that troubles me more than when we make this mistake. There certainly are instructional strategies which are known to be highly effective, and good teachers very often incorporate them, just like the best coaches will typically employ proven drills and techniques. But most of us, on some level, know there is something else. I am here to confirm this. It's called teacher magic.

Teacher magic is hard to explain. And it can look very different depending on the person and the context. It’s the ability to hook students with a story, or make a math problem seem not only relevant, but exciting. It’s making a class project feel like adventure. It’s knowing how to use the art of surprise and how to harness the power of routine and ritual.

It’s going outside to learn - about the forest and the salmon and the first people. It's helping, but not too much. It’s telling, but only enough to provoke the the right questions. It’s instilling curiosity and wonder. It’s hatching butterflies and setting them free.

Teacher magic celebrates difference and diversity. It knows that students learn in different ways. Teacher magic is the magic that knows that David will get the answer if he is given just a little more time to process, and that Perveen shows her thinking best when she can draw pictures and use visual media.

Teacher magic knows when to push harder and when to slow down. It inspires and uplifts. It challenges and makes you really think. Teacher magic is the magic that intuits that things are rough at home, or that times are tight, and it is the magic that responds accordingly. It’s remembering that Shannon likes hockey and that Raul is allergic to peanuts and that Maria’s dog died yesterday and she’s really sad.

It’s the magic of a word, or a gesture. It’s an ear that listens. That understands.

Teacher magic has the power to validate, and the power to correct and redirect. Teacher magic can make you fall in love with quantum physics. It can make a beautiful poem linger for a lifetime.

Sometimes teacher magic is so subtle it seems invisible. It doesn’t always come wrapped in bows and bright colours and have a bubbly personality. It can be as simple as the right tone at the right time. It can be the way you make your classroom feel safe and inviting or the way you sometimes share the experiences you had while living in Australia or travelling the Nile. It's an invitation. A challenge. A good joke.

Mostly though, it’s the magic that says "yes, I believe you can." And then you can.

- Sean Nosek

Mostly though, it’s the magic that says "yes, I believe you can." And then you can.


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