bill smoot

Berkeley, CA, United States

About bill

Bio

I have been a humanities teacher all of my life, teaching people from sixth grade to college students. I am in my twentieth year at Castilleja, a girls prep school in Palo Alto, California. I am the author of Conversations with Great Teachers, a Studs Terkel-style book of interviews with great teachers in a wide range of settings.

I'm passionate about

teaching

Universities

Purdue University

Comments & conversations

118613
bill smoot
Posted about 3 years ago
What is the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher?
Their stories about their development varied quite a bit, but it did seem as if some just had the "teaching gene" and were recognized for it by others. For example, Martin Landau talked about how Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio tapped him when he was very young to do some teaching, and Balanchine did the same with ballerina Suki Shorer. Some mentioned that they learned to teach by trial and error, and a few said it took some years to feel totally at home teaching. But even for those who have "the gift," they worked very hard at it. And that hard work is fueled by their passion.
118613
bill smoot
Posted about 3 years ago
What is the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher?
This question took hold of me a few years ago and I set out on a pilgrimage to find truly great teachers across American and interview them about their teaching. The fifty-one interviews were published in book form, Conversations with Great Teachers (Indian University Press.) The interviewees include not only K-12 and university teachers, but also corporate mentors, ballet teachers, a major-league baseball manager, Barack Obama’s political mentor, acting teacher Martin Landau, and even teachers of exotic dancing and alligator wrestling. Among the qualities I found they had in common were that teaching was a true calling, that they were experts in their field, believers in excellence, passionate about teaching, intuitive about their students, that they taught larger meta-lessons, that they had a knack for making learning experiential. The quality of their being experts in their field perhaps challenges the way many teachers are trained--that is, they major in education and presumably learn to teach, and then they acquire some knowledge as the content of their teaching, chemistry or history, for example. But I found that teaching was not so much a separate art as an aspect of being an expert. So Suki Shorer became a great ballerina and Martin Landau a great actor and then each developed an further ability to teach their great craft to others. If I were to found my own ed school, I would have every student become a passionate expert in a discipline and then as an extension of their love for history or math, develop their ability to teach it to others. I can say that doing these interviews turned out to be one of the more reading and inspirational experiences of my life.