What makes a good teacher? KPU instructor explores school, education in new book

Wed, Nov 15, 2023

To say school is a part of Dr. Ying Ma’s life would be an understatement.

As a young child, she spent afternoons in school waiting for her mother, a teacher. Then came elementary school, high school, university, and eventually a teaching job. Graduate studies followed and so did a return to the classroom — this time at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). All that class time left Ma with plenty of themes to explore as a scholar, including one fundamental question: What makes a good teacher?The Ethics of Becoming a Good Teacher book cover

Ma, an instructor in the Department of Educational Studies at KPU, explores this in a new book that leans on two highly influential philosophers. The Ethics of Becoming a Good Teacher: In Conversation with Aristotle and Confucius connects ancient ideas with Ma’s lived experiences to consider what qualifies as excellence in teaching.

“I don’t have a final answer. I have an intellectual conversation with Aristotle, with Confucius, two big thinkers from more than 2,000 years ago. I bring their languages to inform my teaching, but I don’t find they can exhaust what is good in teaching,” says Ma. “I continue to search for the goodness in teaching. I think that is very important, to continue to search for that in our lived experience in teaching.”

Although the book doesn’t offer a template for teachers, it does reinforce the importance of teaching dialogically — having meaningful conversations with students rather than simply presenting information.

“If there is a message from the book, it is that as teachers we should always strive to have dialogic encounters with our students,” she says. “We become a good teachers by recognizing the importance of dialogue and conversation in teaching and learning.”

In her book, Ma also draws a distinction between schooling and education, words largely regarded as synonyms.

“Often schools, rather than being an adequate and appropriate means to reach educational ends, neglect their educational purposes or, worse, thwart education,” she says. “Education is actually bringing out the goodness in people. Schooling is business-oriented and market-driven, versus education, which is really to help a person to flourish.”

The Ethics of Becoming a Good Teacher: In Conversation with Aristotle and Confucius is published by Routledge.