Monday, July 7, 2014

Great Teacher--Final Installment

  The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book.                                                                                          ~Author Unknown  

      This is my last post on what makes a “great” teacher.  Again, I’m not the expert. I asked my students and these are the most frequent responses I received. In my opinion, it’s a pretty exhaustive list. One I would be well served to pay attention to! School starts in a couple of months. Ruminate over the ideas you’ve read and try to incorporate one or two of them into your next school year. See how what a difference making a few changes can make. I know I plan on it.

A “great” teacher…

11. Is willing to let students explore and learn.
      This can be a hard one as a teacher. We all have a curriculum and standards we feel tied to and any slight deviation makes us feel as though we’re failing students and letting them down.  But one of the earmarks of a great teacher is being flexible. I think this goes right along with flexibility.  Giving students choices and allowing them to captain their learning. This ownership helps with engagement.
Lesson Learned: Every student is different. Allow students to explore and more learning and engagement will take place.

12. Isn’t afraid to fail.
      This can be difficult for some teachers. We as teachers have been taught to maintain control in the classroom. Which translates for some that they must always be right and have all the answers. It’s good for teachers to admit they don’t know something or that a project or lesson they are attempting just isn’t working as it should. I try to be transparent with my students which, I believe, invites them to share the difficulties they may be having with a lesson or a concept. I’ve failed a lot as a teacher. And I’ve failed to admit the failure.
Lesson Learned: It’s much better to admit defeat than try to convince kids you’ve got everything in hand when you don’t. Kids are smart. They know a poor lesson when they see it. Admit it and ask for their input to make it better. You may be surprised at the response.

13. Treats students with respect and like young adults—don’t talk down to students.
      I hear this over and over from my students when they transfer in from other schools. They like my high school because we treat them like young adults and allow them to make choices, good or bad.  I think we gain stronger relationships at Community (my high school) because we do try to treat them with respect. I’ve seen what being a helicopter teacher does to students and it’s not positive.
Lesson Learned: Give students the chance to be young adults and make their own decisions. You may not agree with the choices they make, but the students have to learn the lessons of life as well as curriculum. It’s a safer place to make the errors in your classroom than on the streets.

14. Recognizes that students are under pressure.
      Students today have tremendous pressure. Some may be involved in multiple extracurricular activities along with having work, school, and family responsibilities. This can take a toll on kids. At my school extracurricular activities don’t exist because most of my students work to support themselves, help support their families, or to pay for some of their expenses. Work is vital to most of my students. But for some reason, employers don’t realize these kids are in school. I’ve had students who are scheduled to work until 1 or 2 in the morning. When they mention to their employer that they have school the next day, the employer tells them to work or get fired. So they try to do both, work and school, but wear themselves out. Of the two, school usually comes in second. Realize these kids have more than school going on in their lives. More than work. More than family. Some are parents, some feel like parents to younger siblings, some are caregivers to their parents.  Whatever the case, school is in the mix but may not always be the highest priority for students.
Lesson Learned: Don’t be so rigid that you can’t empathize with students. However, help them problem solve to relieve some of the pressure. Realize most students don’t like the circumstances they are in any more than you do. Don’t add to their pressure. Do what you can to relieve some of it.

15. Has enthusiasm for their job—they LIKED what they were doing.
      I’m ending this series with one of the more important qualities of a great teacher, in my opinion. If you’re a teacher and you don’t love kids and your profession, it may be time to exit stage right. You can’t fool students. They know teachers who love what they do and love being in the classroom. And they respond positively.
Lesson Learned: Know when to hang up my profession. Reevaluate my enthusiasm as a teacher and toward my profession. When I can’t say I’m excited for school to start in September, it may be time for me to hang up my lit book!

      Students are perceptive people. They teach me something new every day. I hope their list of characteristics of great teachers has given you some ideas to ponder. Summer is a super time to reinvent yourself in the classroom. What will you do this next year to become a “great” teacher? Think about it.

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