The Secret Ingredient of Master Teachers

We cannot tell what may happen to us in the strange medley of life. But we can decide what happens in us, how we can take it, what we can do with it––and that is what really counts in the end. How to take the raw stuff of life and make it a thing of worth and beauty; that is the test of living.Joseph Fort Newton

In the field of education, we are constantly reminded of the value of a qualified mentor. This truth is proven by the fact that many of us have become teachers because of a teacher.

Whether it is the extended amount of time we spend with the teacher, or even the personal relationships developed as a healthy byproduct of extra or extra-curricular activities, we know that this class is more than “just another hour in the school day.”

Something very special happens in these classrooms that seems to have more of an impact on students than any other facet of education. Those extraordinary mentors were the ones who were always on fire, wonderfully passionate, predictably excited, and extremely enthusiastic about their life’s purpose — teaching their love of the subject area.

Most college curricula do not have a class entitled “Enthusiasm 101.” Perhaps they should. Where does one learn this personality trait that is the key to effective education? Does it just happen one day? Do we keep learning and adding more data to our minds and then, all of a sudden, enthusiasm appears, and we become obsessed with sharing the information with others?

In truth, most of us learned to be enthusiastic by being in the presence of an enthusiastic person. We became caught up in the charismatic communication of the teacher, and began to emulate this same ardor when we were given our first teaching responsibilities. It is at that point when we discover the “joy of inspired teaching” and the importance of the mission. That process, in itself, will generate enthusiasm.

There are many competent teachers, but those who are most effective also possess that magical quality — enthusiasm. It’s indefinable, predictably unpredictable, wildly contagious, and the fuel for exploring the uncharted territory of human potential. All of this comes from enthusiasm, and these heights are rarely achieved without it.

What is enthusiasm? Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary offers this definition: The belief in special revelations of the Holy Spirit; something inspiring zeal forever. And on that same page, Webster goes further to tell us about the enthusiast: One who is ardently attached to a cause or pursuit. The one who gives completely to whatever engages his or her interest. The derivation of the word (en + theos) means filled with the spirit in the presence of God.

We quickly see the origin of the word has religious or spiritual implications and, through time, has been transferred to modern language to mean a zealous person, one who is devoted to promoting “the spirit” of whatever the chosen causes. This is a perfect description of those select mentors who brought us to the forefront and piqued our curiosity by demonstrating the art of “giving themselves completely to the subject matter.”

Unfortunately, enthusiasm is often misinterpreted as cheap theatrics, over-dramatization, or even a substitute for credible information. The vibrant educator who demonstrates this quality may be the target of ridicule. However, the master teacher who can deliver substantive material with a spirit of passion that opens the minds and ignites the imagination is the mentor who makes the difference. It is at this point that the student becomes his or her own teacher, and a peak learning experience is brought to the classroom. Herein lies the “magic moment” when the individual makes choices that will dictate life patterns. All of this happens because of an enthusiastic teacher.

If it is such a positive attribute, why don’t more teachers display their fervor?

To be enthusiastic means:

  • Standing apart from the masses.
  • Putting forth extra personal energy.
  • Being willing to deal with the skeptics and cynics.
  • Avoiding the temptation to quit or give up.
  • Always finding something worthwhile in every situation.
  • Living life with a purpose.
  • Constantly growing and learning.
  • Embracing the bad with as much love and under standing as the good.

That is quite an agenda to complete and one that takes a tremendous level of self-discipline; however, the benefits far exceed any measurable form of wealth. In essence, enthusiasm makes life worth living. The introspective question we must all ask ourselves is: can we afford not to be enthusiastic?

One of our great modern day philosophers and theologians, Norman Vincent Peale, offers these words about enthusiasm:

Think enthusiastically about everything. If you do, you will put a touch of glory in your life. If you love your work with enthusiasm, you’ll shake it to pieces. You’ll love it into greatness, you’ll upgrade it, you will fill it with prestige and power.

Isn’t that what we all want to do with our lives? We as educators have the opportunity to generate enthusiasm countless times each and every day. Bemoaning the fact that we have had 10 percent cut from our budget, or the scheduled concert is in conflict with an athletic event, or the computer store didn’t deliver the repaired parts, or whatever, is certainly important to the success of the program, but it is inconsequential compared to the fundamental charge of our profession, our art, our reason to be: to uplift every child we touch to a new level of appreciation and understanding.

Now that is a challenge that deserves to be met with positive enthusiasm.


This article is adapted from the book “Everyday Wisdom for Inspired Teaching” by GIA Publications, and reproduced with permission from Tim Lautzenheiser.

Tim Lautzenheiser
Tim Lautzenheiser

Tim Lautzenheiser presently serves as Vice President of Education for Conn-Selmer, Inc. His career involves ten years of successful college band directing at Northern Michigan University, the University of Missouri, and New Mexico State University. His books, produced by G.I.A. Publications, Inc., continue to be bestsellers in the educational world. He is also co-author of popular band method, Essential Elements, and is the Senior Educational Consultant for Hal Leonard, Inc.

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