Every year, the Center for Teaching Quality runs a neat #teachingis campaign during National Teacher Appreciation Week designed to change the narrative around professional educators. This year, I decided to ask my students to do some reflecting around teaching in order to learn a little more about their perceptions of our profession.
The first question that I asked was, “What do you think teaching is? Many of their answers spoke to the hope that has always defined the work that we do on a daily basis:
“Teaching is helping kids to become what they want to be.”
“Teaching is a lot of hard work and sacrifice.”
“Teaching is the ability to create a bond with a kid and have them learn something too.”
“Teaching is helping young people to be successful.”
Those are the moments that drive us, right? When we can create bonds and change lives and help young people to be successful, all of the hard work and sacrifice is totally worth it. It was nice to know that our students value that effort.
Another theme that appeared again and again in their answers was that teaching is about spreading information:
“Teaching is to share your wisdom and knowledge.”
“Teaching is enlightening young people with information.”
“Teaching is giving knowledge to people.”
“Teaching is spreading knowledge so it goes on for generations so nothing is forgotten.”
I’m not totally sure how to feel about those responses. A part of me is honored that my kids think that I have wisdom to share — and I HOPE that the wisdom they value goes well beyond the required curriculum — but I worry that the kids in my class have already learned that school is nothing more than a place where they have to memorize new tidbits of academic trivia in order to be successful. To me, schools should be about so much more than spreading knowledge.
Then, I asked my students to describe the best teachers. One theme appeared again and again. See if you can spot it:
“The best teachers look at a student as a friend and not just some kid.”
“The best teachers are excited about interacting with their kids.”
“The best teachers are interested in what you have to say.”
“The best teachers are close and personal with the students, even if it is messy.”
I guess the old adage that “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” still rings true, right? Kids aren’t motivated by content or curricula, y’all. They are motivated by the important adults in their lives — and the best teachers make building relationships with their students a priority.
I also asked my kids to describe the worst teachers. Here’s what they had to say:
“The worst teachers make children to things straight from the textbook.”
“The worst teachers are the kind of teachers who sit at their desk and do nothing.”
“The worst teachers give you a worksheet and tell you to complete it.”
“The worst teachers just talk and talk about boring things while the children take notes.”
Got it. Worksheets and textbooks are bad. VERY bad. So is “talking and talking about boring things.” Funny how similar that is to my feelings about the worst principals and professional developers. Meaning and the ability to participate literally define the learning experiences that I care the most about. Why would it be any different for kids.
One of the messages that I needed to hear personally was that kids really want to succeed in our classes and they are counting on us to create spaces where it is safe even for those who struggle. That’s something I’m not always certain that I do as well as I should:
“The best teachers will stop to help when they can.”
“The best teachers make you feel comfortable about asking questions.”
“The best teachers will help you understand something completely.”
“The worst teachers just rush through all the learning.”
So how do you measure up against the expectations of my students?
Are you putting relationships first in your classroom? Do your actions send the message that kids matter WAY more than content does? Are you creating an active learning space? Showing that you are excited about the opportunity to stand in front of students every day?
Will you be remembered as someone who cared?
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