I began a new school year at a new school in the middle of a pandemic. Hey, I am comfortable being uncomfortable! It is definitely the most interesting start to a year in all of my 20 years in education. In the beginning of each year, I ask the question about what makes a great teacher to all of my students.
In your opinion, what makes a great teacher?
It is interesting to hear the answers. 99.9% of them are not about subject matter at all. They are always about being human. Students are not afraid to tell you what they think. Especially high school students. Which I love! It is a way for me to learn about each generation.
I wanted to pass along the top 3 descriptions I received in a school I just started at during remote learning. None of the students even knew me at the time I asked these questions. Here we go…
Students want a teacher to listen to them. To hear them. To see a point of view that is not like their own. Being an empathetic teacher can bring amazing results in and outside the classroom. Hearing students and attempting to put yourself in their shoes will do wonders in communication and understanding where they are in your course work, and in life. It opens up a deeper understanding that will inevitably lead to greater engagement in learning. Asking the right questions to students and listening. Heavy focus on the listening.
Almost all of my students gave some sort of description detailing a motivating person as a great teacher. It is true. If you aren’t inspired by what you teach, the students won’t be either. Inspiration breeds motivation. As a business teacher, there is nothing in the world more motivating to me than seeing my students gain knowledge and become more curious about finding a path in life around business and or entrepreneurship. That is my motivation. To help others find and share their value in life. I always tell my students this. When they become motivated, the classroom environment elevates to a level of engagement that is amazing. I personally like to send feedback videos to my students letting them know what their strengths and improvements can be on many assignments.
3. Has Fun
When I was going through my teacher training, the saying was to not smile until Winter break. That way the students would work hard and be afraid of you and do what you say. That was 20 years ago. Unfortunately, there are teachers who still believe this myth. Taking your job too seriously will lead to burnout. If you work with someone who enjoys what they do, you tend to enjoy working with them. Hang around someone who is engaging, pleasant, and optimistic, you will be more engaging, pleasant, and optimistic as well. No different in school. As a teacher, have a lot of fun. I am not denying this job is difficult. It is. Students want to have fun. So do I! Fun doesn’t mean goofing off all the time. Think of fun as being vulnerable. Put yourself out there in front of the students. Make mistakes and laugh at them and show kids how to learn from them rather than fear them.
So how do we be this type of teacher in times of distance learning.
In times like these, we need to use our tools as much as possible to add the human centered approach. That means, being human while on screen. A few tips that I do helps bring a personal empathetic approach and motivates the kids as well.
Our school uses canvas and there is the opportunity to video feedback to each student. While this function takes some time and planning, it works wonders. I video about a 30 second to 1 minute response to an assignment. I will talk about the students responses and let them know what I liked about it. I always end with an essential question for them to ponder that relates to the curriculum. It is personal, and engaging for the student. They know I took the time to video it and do a response just for them. It is way more than a checkmark and a grade. It shows my empathy and motivates the students.
Another way I like to have fun is on camera. We are in a Google Meet / Zoom world right now. I like to tell a joke or do funny faces on the screen. Sometimes, I’ll show a funny meme (school appropriate of course) to make a point about what we are working on. We get creative with bringing professionals in and sharing podcasts using technology. I remind the students daily of what we CAN do in the current environment and celebrate it. That lightens up the class and makes it more fun for kids. One instance, one girl in class had her pet dog show up on screen. It was the cutest dog! Everyone just took a moment and said AWWW. Immediately after that, another student was handed his niece what was the most adorable baby (3 months) and the class went AWWW even more. The girls with the dog smiled and told the kid with the baby, “you just one-upped me!” We all laughed and continued on in our lesson.
That is the human centered approach. That is what makes learning better. That is what make a great teacher.