If you want to know what is great about your school, just ask your students. I’m willing to bet you won’t get responses like the new math curriculum, a state-of-the-art computer lab, or an expanded cafeteria menu. Most likely you will hear things like, “I have the best teacher”… “she makes learning fun”…”he believes in me!”
What students take away from their educational experience usually centers around a personal connection with someone in that school. The success stories are those kids that find a personal connection with someone who cared about not only their academic success, but also their personal success… someone who understands that life inside the classroom is largely influenced by life outside the classroom.
At the root of just about every educational reform initative, debate, or discussion is how to quantify learning and measure academic success. Legislators will argue that in order to effectively “fix education” and fairly and accurately compare apples to apples, all students must have equal access to learning experiences so that we can assess teaching and learning with the same standards and measures.
Teachers will tell you that life isn’t fair – all kids don’t come to school with a standard “backpack” of experiences, preparation, familial support, or skills. In fact, some kids don’t come to school clean, fed, and rested.
Good teachers know their subject matter and how the students will be expected to demonstrate their learning of that content. They practice sound pedagogical strategies so that their students can not only grasp new knowledge, but apply it and make cognitive connections with that learning. Good teachers care about their students and have high expectations for their academic performance. They take pride in their “calling” and are passionate about reaching and engaging every student.
Now, let’s talk about GREAT teachers.
Great teachers know that good teaching is not enough. Great teachers know that the delivery of the material is as important as the content. These are the teachers that are storytellers, performers, comedians, and magicians…whatever it takes to engage students and inspire a love for learning.
Great teachers know that kids need food in their bellies to be able to concentrate and process new information. Great teachers pack an extra sandwich and peanut butter crackers with certain kids in mind.
Great teachers know that all children deserve an adult that believes in them, advocates for them, and insists they be the very best they can be.
Great teachers know that in addition to learning math, science and reading skills, children need to learn things like integrity, respect, perseverance, and kindness. Great teachers demonstrate these qualities to create a warm, safe learning community.
Great teachers know that when kids come to school unprepared, it isn’t always a case of irresponsibility. For some kids, homework falls behind homelessness, hunger, abuse, and violence. For some kids, the to-do list is about staying safe. Survival.
Great teachers know that their classroom may be the safest place on the planet for some kids. They worry about certain kids and take them home in their hearts during every break from school.
Great teachers know that kids don’t always have basic necessities. They spend their own money on school supplies, snacks, mittens, sweatshirts, backpacks, and a million other things that students need but don’t have.
Great teachers know that fair does not mean equal, and every kid has his own learning style, personality, challenges, and talents that impact his success.
Great teachers know that art, music, gym, and downtime to socialize and give the brain a break are essential elements for healthy cognitive function. Great teachers find ways to incorporate them even when the institution eliminates them.
Great teachers know that real learning is about discovery, experimentation, exploration, and making mistakes. They know that kids need time to play, build, create, and imagine. Sometimes it’s messy and loud, and sometimes it doesn’t fit neatly on a bubble sheet.
Great teachers know that good teaching isn’t enough.
They know that meeting the needs of every student means assuming the role of social worker, nutritionist, counselor, nurse, and even surrogate parent at times. They know that teaching the child’s mind means nurturing the whole child.
Great teachers not only care about them as students, they care about them as human beings, and they know that grades and standards are just a slice of their lives. They see them as more than test scores and accountability measures. The recognize the challenges that are not acknowledged in the teacher’s guides and they validate the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of kids who have to nagivate through the orange cones of life much too early.
And don’t think for a moment that kids can’t tell the difference. Kids can always tell the difference.
Share this post with a GREAT teacher in your corner of the world!
Dr. Melissa Hughes is the founder and principal of The Andrick Group. Our mission is to engage, inspire, and educate people to increase their capacity for learning and creativity. We do this by providing tailored, dynamic workshops that help organizations improve their work by understanding how the brain works and applying that to achieve greater productivity, professional growth, and personal satisfaction.