Teaching is a job that can take many forms. Many people think that the job of the teacher is to deliver the content of their subject area to the students and to hold them accountable for learning that content. However, once you spend a week in the classroom as a teacher on a week on campus as an administrator you know that it is much more than that. Teachers are mentor's, friends, disciplinarians, coaches, psychologists, doctors, comedians, inventors, carpenters, IT personnel, and performers amongst many other jobs. The truth is, there is no handbook on how good teaching is done. Sure we have teacher preparation courses and tons of books on the subject (I hope to write one soon), but we are all so very different. Students come from all walks of life and so do teachers. So I figured I would just mention a few things I have learned about students that have helped me adapt in my pursuit to be an impacting educator.
1) We cannot treat all children the same because they are not.
The initial response to this may be, "That isn't fair to treat children unequally." That is not what I am saying. Actually, there is a difference between equality and equity. What I am saying is that our job is to teach students to their full potential and there are many different ways to accomplish this. Some students will respond to tough love, while others will shut down. Some students will be inspired by your words of motivation while others need you to show it with the act of side by side support. But it all comes down to knowing them and understanding where they are coming from. It is important to embrace their different talents and interests because that is what makes our classes fun.
2) Humor can break down the biggest barriers with students.
Many educators have had that moment when the student who was completely disengaged finally cracked a smile. That is typically the beginning of progress. Think of all the toughest moments in life and think of how often it is humor or common ground that bring us comfort. In environments without humor, it is hard to enjoy anything. Of course, there are scenarios when there is too much humor going on but the quickest and most effective way to create a bond is through humor. If there is smiling, laughter, and light heartedness within the walls of your classroom and you are managing that at a healthy level, chances are you are doing something right.
3) Students will only accept challenges if they trust and respect you.
We all have the desire to push our students to their maximum capacity. We want our students to exceed expectations and reach high levels of learning. Well, I believe that in order for us to teach like that, our students need to feel compelled to do so. If we are leading an expedition, our students need to know that we will not leave them stranded in the wilderness. We need to build up to success. We need to provide them safety nets rather than threaten them with failure. The lifelong A student will always be intrinsically motivated for success. But what are we doing to make our C students motivated to succeed. We are leaders and effective leaders inspire faith in their followers. What are we doing to inspire faith in our students?
4) Students will perform at a higher level when they are interested.
Lets get this straight, students will never be 100% interested, 100% percent of the time. However, the more often they are interested, the more often they will perform at a higher level. There are always building blocks that need to be established that aren't thrilling but we need to infuse interesting topics to inspire achievement. Think about the most productive and successful moments or projects in your life. Chances are, you were not bored while doing it. A quiet classroom is good sometimes but the constantly silent room is probably filled with a good amount of boredom. What are we doing to keep students interested, active, and inspired.
5) The moment when you have a breakthrough with a student will change your life forever.
Schools often feel like battlegrounds. Teaching is tough. Students are not always the most endearing characters. But those moments when you connect with them or have significant breakthroughs with them are worth all of the effort. I believe that educators have the best job in the world. We see growth, impact, revelation, and many eye opening moments throughout the year. I think we are very fortunate to have that opportunity.
These are just a few of the things I have learned about students. I learn just as much everyday as they do. That is why I think it is so important to reflect from time to time. Leading is Teaching.