So I have told you much about my new position as a teacher this year. This post is not about that, but I currently work at my district’s science center as a STEM teacher. In this job I get to come into contact with many of the students in the district and areas near by, but more than that I get to see many, many teachers in action with students. I get to talk to them and find out how things are going and what is working for them. This is one of my favorite things about my job.
Let me just say, I have been able to meet and interact with some great teachers. Some really, really excellent teachers. And I have been impressed and humbled by them. I do not know if I was in the same league as some of them when I was still in the classroom. Seriously.
They all have many different traits, but I have been able to observe some commonalities between them. It seems like there is a “formula” to being a great teacher. However, I do not know how much it can be learned versus natural ability and personality. They are not the kind of things that fit on a lesson plan, but, even so, some things are worth practicing and trying!
The number one thing that I noticed among the great teachers I have met is that they know each of their students and have individual ways of interacting with each. I don’t know if this makes sense. What I mean is that their way of talking with and helping each student seems to be differentiated to the personality of each student. This does not come easy. This means knowing each student as an individual and know how to bring the best out of each. This is an amazing feat and trait. There is a video being passed around Facebook of a basketball coach and his team that shows this better than I can explain.
I love this video. I have probably watched it at least 20 times. The time it took him to know his players and develop these handshakes was probably enormous, but the relationship building that happened was priceless. This is the kind of individualizing and differentiation I see among the great teachers. Not necessarily with handshakes, but with the way that they approach each student.
The second common trait of great teachers I have seen is a willingness to put students first, even over schedules and non-essential policies. Great teachers see what students need and bend the rigidness of their structure (or schedule) to make sure that learning happens or needs are met. This is hard to explain much further because it depends on the situation on what this means, but I can give an example.
When I see classes of students, it is usually in the form of a field trip to the science center. There is a pretty tight schedule between arrival, labs, lunch, and departure. Most teachers try to stick to that schedule, and rightfully so. However, some of the great teachers work around the schedule a bit when their students are on the edge of making some real connections with content or concepts. Some teachers will sacrifice a few minutes of lunch or be willing to take the fall for making the bus wait for them for a few minutes. They know that what the students are doing at the center is worthwhile, and they are willing to take flack for the sake of their kids. And I am sure this applies to situations in their classrooms, as well.
The next thing that seems to be a commonality between great teachers is that they do not waste one teachable moment. The greatest teachers always have a way of making learning happen everywhere. No situation is without something to spark curiosity, review concepts, or teach about life in general. Learning is a way of life for those teachers, and so is teaching. And it happens in every moment of the day is some little way.
Great teachers also always make great strides in making sure that everything connects. Just like learning happens everywhere for these teachers, learning is also connected to other things and never stands alone. You have to make every minute count, and that means that students need to see that content and concepts are connected. Math relates to science which relates to social studies which relates to ELA…or any combination of this…and all of it connects to students lives and the world at-large. This come back to making every moment a teachable moment. If there is a connection that can be made between things that students need to learn, great teachers make sure that they try to help their kids connect those dots.
Last, but definitely not least, great teachers all tend to make sure that students see the impossible as being possible. I am not talking things that are physically impossible like putting on a cape and flying, but the things that students see as impossible that are actually quite possible. Students that struggle in reading can be great readers. Students who don’t know their multiplication facts yet can be great math students. Students who see school as a place where they can’t live up to the expectation can survive, thrive, and love learning. Great teachers help students see what is impossible to them as possible and help them do the work to make the impossible possible. Great teachers help students past their failures and through the work it takes to be a success. It takes time, effort, and determination, but these teachers stop at nothing to make it happen.
There are many other aspects of great teachers and great teaching, but I think these five are very attainable by all of us. Does it take hard work? Yes. Are we going to have to make decisions that are “off plan?” Sure we will. Will we take flack for the choices we make? You better believe it. Will it be worth it for the lives and futures of our students? More than we will ever know!
So, as you write your lesson plans, remember the things that don’t quite fit on the plans. The needs, personalities, and futures of your students. Remember what comes first. Don’t be afraid to leave the lesson plans and fly without a net from time to time. It’s what great teachers do…and I have a feeling you are one of those great teachers! Do remember, though, that the impact you make by doing these things may not be something you see for quite a while…but you will be making a lasting impact.
You are an amazing teacher! I know that you put students first. Know that this is what makes you a great teacher! Keep doing what you do and keep on teaching, Teacher!
PS… A quick update. After I wrote this yesterday, I saw this video posted on Facebook. This is a great teacher. She gets it. Students are more than can be measured (especially measured by a test and a formula of how much computer time they “need”). She is a great teacher…we can talk later about how so many of the great teachers seem on the verge of giving up.