Originally shared by Tom Anderson

Have you ever thought about what makes a great teacher great? Honestly, and perhaps strangely, I hadn’t given it much thought before. But a few weeks ago, I posted a photo I’d taken (http://bit.ly/qOaBSL) and mentioned how I’d gone to Burning Man with Trey Ratcliff because of a vague sense that I wanted to learn about photography from him. As people began to respond to the photo I shared, some themes began to stand out. Many suggested I had “learned a lot” very rapidly. Some seemed to disbelieve this could have been my first attempt at photography. Others commented on my skill, or the skill of Trey, to teach me so quickly. Some said Trey was a “great” teacher. And then an interesting thought hit me…

I started to think about what Trey had taught me so far, and realized that more important than anything, was that he inspired me. Seeing his photos on G+ and talking to him about them is literally why I went out and bought a camera a few weeks ago, and that, I think, is probably 50% of the skill of great teachers — they lead by example and inspire you to want to learn what they know. Once the student gets over the “hurdle” of dis-interest, they’re 25% of the way to learning something. If the teacher makes them love the subject, I’d say they’re 50% of the way there.

It’s not just true of Trey. As I started to think about it, I realized all my favorite teachers were so successful with me, because they were courageous enough to open themselves up and show me something that many people choose to keep very private — their intense passion for their subject matter. I’ve experienced this with literature (thanks Stephen Booth (http://bit.ly/pQWz6m)) & philosophy teachers (thanks Frederick Dolan! (http://bit.ly/pveU4H)). Trey is the first to show it to me in the field of photography. On a side note, I think Robert Scoble is making me feel that way about technology for technology’s sake. When you see how passionate these people are, you either think “wow, cool, not for me,” or “wow, I need to walk in that guy’s shoes!”

Now of course, like most everyone, I have always owned simple point & shoot cameras, and I have a camera on my cel phone. And, like everyone, I used to bring my simple camera on vacations, but I stopped bringing it, because I never bothered to take a shot. And that leads us to the last 25%. The last major step is just taking daily action to improve yourself. So it starts with an interest in the subject, it gets elevated by being truly motivated & inspired by someone’s example, and then it gets serious when you start habitual, frequent study of the topic in question. At that point, I’d say you’re 75% of the way to learning something.

What changed for me? Why do I now sit around thinking, “what do I want to photograph next?” It was really just taking one good photo. I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t like photography, it was that I didn’t like bad photography. In fact, my instincts in this area were so strong, it had prevented me from taking casual snaps of friends, events, or anything interesting. In the past, I’d take a few photos and I was really unhappy with the result. I’d look at the flat, dull image and not want to share it, save it, or a look at it again. If I kept the photo, it was only a base “reminder” of the event, sort of like jotting down a chronicle on a calendar: “Visited Egypt, December, 2008”. That text in a notebook would be about as equally useful to me as the lifeless photo I was formerly able to produce — it was a functional reminder that might trigger some nice memories, not an elegant representation, celebration, or a treasured memento, the way an artful photograph can be.

So, put another way and perhaps more simply, prior to these teachers entering my life, I hadn’t even consciously known I had an interest in what they had to teach. You could say the best teachers give you a gift by showing you something you love. Once they’ve done that, how could you not learn?

Here’s a photo I took of Trey while we were at Burning Man. For those that know him, they’ll recognize this is classic Trey — he tends to put his hand on his chin like that while he’s talking to someone. Thanks, my friend 🙂