Being a great teacher should be something all teachers aspire to be. If it is not, maybe you chose the wrong career!
Although, for the past two years I have been in classrooms as Robot Man, running Robotics Incursions; for the twenty-eight years before that, I was a "normal school teacher". I taught classes from Junior school to High school. I taught in private and public schools.
I have taught hundreds of kids over thirty years, from Kinder to Year 12. During that time I often asked kids what makes a great teacher? Here is a summary of what I remember them saying. (They are not ranked in any particular order, because it is almost impossible to do that!).
It's all about relationships.
1. Be kind.
Kids basically want to be liked! In my books there's nothing worse than a mean teacher. The most memorable teachers will be one of two things. They were kind or they were mean. Your job is to treat each kid the way you would treat your own children. With love, compassion and kindness. Sometimes being kind is just giving away free smiles.
2. Be fair.
Sometimes being fair just means being consistent. Nobody likes getting in trouble for breaking rules that were unclearly explained. They don't like it when there are inconsistencies in rewards and punishments. Before you chant the "life's not fair- get used to it" argument... remember that kids see teachers as people in authority. How do you feel when there are inconsistencies performed by police or the government? You lose respect for them, right? It's the same when I teacher is unfair and doesn't care.
Being fair means treating each kid the way you would want to be treated. If one kid steals something is it fair to keep the whole class in? Punishing the whole class when a minority are to blame is a mistake too many teachers make. It's unfair.
3. Be strict.
What? No it's not a mistake. A lot of kids I have asked prefer a teacher that draws clear lines in the sand. Kids see being strict as often being fair. And even strict teachers can be kind. It's not about being bossy and demanding respect, either. In my experience, the teachers who demand respect are the ones who have the least! You need to earn respect from students; (from anyone, really!) A good way to earn respect is to be kind and fair, AND to take heed of point 4:
4. Know the stuff you are supposed to be teaching - be passionate about it!
It sounds obvious but it is hard for kids to respect a teacher when they don't know what they are talking about. And you will lose even more respect if you are too proud to admit you aren't an expert! Kids respond well to teachers who admit they are wrong, or if they want to clarify things via Google! When I used to teach Year 12's I was often confronted with students who were smarter than me. If you don't have an answer, say "Let's see what we can find out together." Or "Let me do some research about that one, and we'll discuss it next lesson." Teacher's these days are often more "facilitators" than being the fountain of knowledge they use to be. We need to get used to the idea that kids can prove us wrong in a couple of clicks. Kids can spot B.S. from 5 metres.
But if you show a genuine desire to teach the content, kids will forgive just about any mistake. Have energy. Be invested in what you are sharing. If it's boring, it's actually your fault.
5. Admit when you are wrong - be honest.
This isn't just admitting a mistake with your teaching content; it has to do with admitting you are wrong if you judged someone's behaviour incorrectly. For example, if you discipline a child for breaking a rule, then you realise they were not to blame. Some of the best connections I have had with kids are when I have sat beside them and said, "Sorry. I made a mistake. I was wrong to say that. I hope you can forgive me."
Be honest about where you are with your marking. Be honest about why things don't work out sometimes. Don't make excuses or kids will see straight through you.
6. Don't yell
I've worked with teachers who never yell. I've worked with teachers who yell all the time. There's a good chance, if you ask someone about their worst teacher, it'll be a yeller. There is actually a difference between talking in a loud, clear voice and yelling. Some kids just don't cope with being yelled at. And when you think about it, how do you feel when someone yells at you? I know when I am mad, I am often mad at myself for letting things get out of hand. If a student breaks a rule, maybe you didn't explain it well enough! Maybe you need to go find a mirror and yell at yourself. Better still, try to imagine about an hour in the future... will you still be angry? My advice... count to ten before exploding. Usually the need to explode will disappear.
7. Be funny
I am sure, when you were young, some of your best teachers had a great sense of humour. Kids like a laugh, a joke, (even dad jokes) and they will always be thankful if you can make them smile. They will be particularly impressed if you are humble enough to laugh at yourself, sometimes.
8. Don't embarrass kids
Kids hate being humiliated in front of their peers. Sometimes just pointing out someone's poor behaviour can be embarrassing. The best response I have had from kids always involves me taking the student aside, and talking to them calmly, logically and with respect. If you show them some respect, it will be reciprocated. Giving kids nicknames they hate, or drawing attention to their weaknesses in front of everyone is very unprofessional, and the kids will literally hate you for it, possibly for the rest of their lives.
9. Give kids good, fair and reasonable feedback.
Kids like it when you actually take notice of the work they have done for you. This can be actually marking their work and writing a comment or just saying a positive word of encouragement so they know they are on the right track and you approve of what they are doing. Kids will not work hard, and will not reach their potential with you if they know you won't acknowledge their effort. They will label you as a bad teacher if you take ages to mark work, or make significant errors in feedback or ignore them.
10. Don't be creepy!
What makes a bad teacher? "Some-one who's creepy." It sounds obvious but it is something that kids are concerned about. Creepy can mean something as simple as bad hygiene but often it is the case of a teacher invading a student's personal space. Don't ever say or do anything that makes the students (or their parents) doubt your professionalism or anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Teachers all know they should be very careful not to touch kids inappropriately or say things that could be considered rude or sexual. You know where I am going here. Creepy teachers are easily the worst, in everybody's book. Don't ever cross that line. I know kids, who are now adults, who have been scarred for life because of an over-affectionate, stupid teacher. Keep your physical distance professional. And if you see something inappropriate - report it.
I'd love to hear your comments, whether you are a teacher or not. Maybe you could tell us about your favourite teacher, or your worst teacher! Maybe there's a point from above that really resonates with you, or something you think I have missed out. Tell me your thoughts!
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