Monday, October 14, 2013

What Makes a Good Teacher?

Have you ever wondered what long-term impact you make as a teacher?  What will your students remember years from now when they look back on the time they spend with you?

As you may know, I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by highlighting former students and how they are living extraordinarily.  While I've had a sense of what they were doing in life through social media or face-to-face interaction, it's been lots of fun catching up with them digging into their adult lives. I've also enjoyed hearing their reflections on a year spent with me as their teacher.

The answers I am receiving are not what I might have expected.  I thought I would get something like, "I learned the value of hard work by all the nasty assignments you gave me." Or maybe, "I enjoyed using computers in your class, and now I'm inspired to use them all the time."  I didn't even get to hear, "I'll never forget that creative assignment we did on..."

While there were occasional references to something learned through an assignment or project, most of the responses so far have dealt with me as a person. "You apologized when you made a mistake." "You took us out to eat as a reward." "You were transparent with us."

I'm certain these students learned something from me. I've taught a lot of lessons on fractions and sentences, decimals and paragraphs.  I've walked through my weight in Country Reports and have taught my way through A Father's Promise 29 times. I can quote Psalm 139:1-14 nearly flawlessly because I've heard it more times than I can count. We've researched the Holocaust and the Japanese-American Internment together.  These kids walk away from me learning facts, concepts, and skills...but that's not what they remember.

As I pondered these thoughts, I turned to my high school study hall (with all of two students in it at the moment) and asked them, "What makes a good teacher?"  A senior girl immediately responded, "They have to be relatable."  Now, relatable isn't really a word, but the concept is pretty clear.  If you cannot relate to the student, if the student can't relate to you, you're not going to be an effective teacher.

And I pondered more and turned to Facebook.  I asked my Facebook friends to tell me what made their favorite teacher so good.  Twenty-one people responded with all sorts of answers.  They ranged from former students in their 20s to grandparents and everything in between. Since the question was open-ended, there were all sorts of answers, but the answers were very interesting.  An overwhelming eleven people mentioned something about caring about students.  Only five people said anything about subject matter, whether being passionate about the content or fairly teaching the content on the test. (See below for the actual conversation.)

It's easy to be wrapped up in content and objectives and standards.  There are schedules to keep and standardized tests to survive. We have lesson plans to write and papers to grade. And, don't forget discipline issues and best practices. These are all important aspects to being a good teacher.  But if these things define who we are as teachers, we've missed our calling.

In A Father's Promise, the class novel I taught for 15 years, Rudi's dad is quoted as saying, "People, Rudi. People are more important than things."  When we realize that we teach children or teenagers, not a particular subject area, we get the horse before the cart again.  When we can relate to these kids, they know we care... and the subjects we teach may begin to be meaningful to them as well.

I don't pretend to be the best teacher in the world, nor would I say that every student walked away from my class feeling like I was in their corner.  However, I hope that all this pondering will help me take a moment in class tomorrow to listen to my students' lives and let them know they are important to me.

How will your students know you love them?

Here is my Facebook question and all the answers, with personal identifiers deleted.
Random question for you. What makes a good teacher? (Don't go naming great teachers or lousy teachers. Just think about your favorite teacher of all time. What made that teacher great?) Thanks!

  •  Genuine interest in the student that's specifically communicated to the student by the teacher, and not implied by occupation or left to assumption. Students don't automatically assume you care about them just because you're the teacher,

  •  Someone who took the time to be human, too. To talk about life and share life wisdom, too.

  •  Making the subject fun! Also, allowing students to ask questions without fear of feeling stupid.

  •  I agree with the genuine interest- also, not trying to fit everything into a pat answer- hearing what the question is and answering it appropriately-speaking TO the students not AT them- sharing experiences with them, enjoying them- not embarrassing the students....

  • Knew me inside and out, pushed through my stubbornness, made me laugh, challenged me, and didn't allow me to settle for mediocrity.

  • Patience. 

    Something I'm running low on today...

  •  They were absolutely in love with the subject they taught and inspired a love in me. They had fun teaching me.

  •  He took the time know who I was, and had great passion in sharing his knowledge with us!

  •  Craig Dunlap! Lol

  •  "A kick in the tail and a hug." A teacher that shows their students how much they care about them but also pushes them to do their best.

  •  Someone who makes the subject come "alive"; their love for the subject is obvious and infectious.

  •  Friendly and consistent with all students

  •  The ones who let you try something a little beyond your reach, and then gave you the chance to recover when you failed.

  • My best teacher made it fun and did fun special projects (which I happen to like), like making a song, etc.

  •  Teachers that don't try to trick you with the test. Tell me I need to know a b c and then ask me a b c on the test. Humor goes a long way for me. And lastly, give me context for what you are teaching me. Help me understand why It's good to learn what you are teaching.

  •  She always believed in me!!! She started the day with a Bible story(my 2nd grade teacher in a public school, back when you could still do that), & she always let us know that God loved each one of us & had a plan for us!! I never heard her raise her vo...See More

  •  Ones that set high expectations and demand the best from each student. Those not well liked by students, until the students are out in the work world and realize the teacher had their best interest in mind.

  •  Someone who quietly commanded the respect of his students, made us respect ourselves, wasn't interested in being cool, and made learning interesting. When you got an A, you knew you earned it.

  •  he told me the truth of the life i was about to face not just once but took several classes mapping things out for us.

  •  Taking the time to really connect with students! Two of my favorite teachers went out of their way to do that for me, even though one hadn't been my teacher for several years. I remember those talks and weekly prayer meetings even today and it still means so much!

  •  Look in a mirror

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