Tim Gunn’s lessons on education


Teacher image courtesy of Alvimann, Morguefile.

It’s amazing, the effect that a good teacher has on your life. Although I’ve written before about memorable teachers in my post about things my teachers taught me, I didn’t realize what education is like from the teacher’s point of view.

I’m catching up on my reading during Labor Day weekend, and just finished Tim Gunn: The Natty Professor — A Master Class on Mentoring, Motivating and Making It Work. I’m mostly familiar with Tim Gunn through the TV show “Project Runway”. I didn’t know, however, that he’s been a classroom teacher for almost 30 years. I thought I’d pick up this book he wrote with Ada Calhoun to learn what he has to say about teaching and mentoring.

The book describes the lessons Gunn’s learned as an educator and what he’s taught other teachers about proper ways to mentor and educate, interspersed with anecdotes from different people describing how a certain teacher inspired or motivated them. He also talks about the flaws that he saw among other educators and students — racism, misuse of the educational system, and arrogance, for example.

The book definitely made me even more aware that teachers hold people’s psyches in their hands, and that’s something that should be carefully handled. To Gunn, it’s a collaborative environment between students and teachers. I agree with that: Students should be encouraged to explore, to ask, to dream. Gunn points out, “Asking questions and learning new things is like stocking a pantry. The more ingredients you gather, the more dishes you can make.” (My foodie readers ought to like that analogy.)

The book is fun to read and a great education about education. It contains some interesting showbiz anecdotes, too.

The closing sentences of this book are a masterful example of the perfect closing. In the final chapter, Gunn speaks of his experience visiting one particular school in New Jersey where the classes accommodate students physical or psychological needs. I love how he sums it all up: “I’m a better person for having been there. It reminded me of what education is all about: a place where abilities are celebrated and issues are addressed, where people young and old work together to learn and grow. May each and every one of us have such educational opportunities for teaching and learning in every aspect of our lives.”

Even if you are never a teacher yourself, you may still end up teaching someone. Parents teach their kids. Grandmothers and grandfathers teach grandchildren. Aunts and uncles teach nephews and nieces. Friends teach friends.

Sometimes the teacher ends up being taught even more. I’ve taught four social media workshops and given people one-on-one instruction about social media, and it’s such a pleasure watching the light come on in their faces as they realize the full capabilities of social media. It’s the questions they ask and the topics that they want to explore that make me want to teach even more. Maybe I’ll get the chance sometime.

Blog readers: Have you ever had the chance to profoundly teach or mentor someone, in or out of school? Or to thank a teacher that affected you in a good way? What was that like?




Filed under Writing

4 responses to “Tim Gunn’s lessons on education

  1. We will never forget our oldest daughter’s preschool teacher. She was an inspiration and the start of education. We send her a Christmas card every year even after 7 years have gone by. 😄

  2. Servetus

    I taught in US universities from 1994 to 2014 and yes, you have to be very careful. First, do no harm.


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