Recently a colleague of mine, the school’s technology teacher assigned his students the task of sending proper e-mails. If you have ever read an e-mail from a middle school student, you would know it can often be awkward, informal and can come across as rude – often missing the cues of what a proper formal e-mail should look like. However, the idea this colleague had in tangent to this assignment was for the students to send an email to the teacher of the class they like best. So, interestingly enough, I received a good handful of emails that really brightened my day!
When reflecting over the e-mails and reaffirming that perhaps I am doing something right, after all, I began to think what really makes a good teacher? When I was in grad school some professors suggested thinking of our own favorite teacher or the qualities of what made our favorite teacher stand out or even envision ourselves as our own best teacher. Of course, some qualities bear not repeating like patience and a desire to teach but what about the other qualities. I reflected on my own practice and some qualities I think I may be doing right. Agree or disagree, it probably wouldn’t hurt to exude the following qualities:
It goes without saying kindness can go a long way. When dealing with children, however, especially this can make or break a relationship. The student population I serve has children coming in from a myriad of backgrounds – homelessness, depression, anxiety, neglectful parents, mental disorders, among so many others. A child’s kind word may only come from the teacher that day and is something I am mindful of as well. I employ this Hawk Dollar system that rewards good behavior and academics with treats, extra points and other incentives which the students enjoy and I try to make an effort to get to know student interests as well. Are the kids mostly interested in sports? Perhaps I will discuss the most current sports star in the next lesson. Are the kids really into Cardi B? Maybe in the poetry unit, I would cover one of her (clean) songs. Just finding small ways to be kind does help.
Most teachers I know, if not all, have some sort of other passion besides teaching. Whether it is photography, dance, sci-fi knowledge, traveling or whatever, these can all possibly be implemented in the classroom. As it were that my thing happens to be writing, particularly creative writing, whenever the curriculum allows it I try to embed some of the ideas into the classroom. Sometimes even when providing exemplars to students, I would incorporate their names or their interests to also try to engage them in the material. If a student is particularly artistic or dramatic, I gladly welcome when it comes to whole class reading or independent work. Even if one isn’t particularly creative, then the students more than make up for it and allowing this in the class can make for an even richer experience.
Sometimes you just have to try things to see if it works. If it falls flat, fine. If it ends up exceeding your expectations, all the better. In either case is a learning experience and something teachers should embrace. This year I wanted to incorporate more technology into the classroom. After all, the way of the future almost demands our next generation scholars to become tech-savvy so what better way than to have them start now. My co-teacher and I have been using apps like Easel.ly, Edpuzzle, Flocabulary, Padlet, among others that I am still researching to implement. Students love to use technology as well and sometimes this even beats the traditional pen to paper or textbook learning some are more accustomed to. Of course, not all apps are accessible but you learn and move on until you find something that works for you and your demographic.
4. A sense of humor.
Finally, and something that doesn’t get said often enough is that one has to have a sense of humor. On those particularly down days or when it seems like nothing is going right whether the kids are acting crazy, the copier broke or the school wifi is down, a sense of humor can most definitely come in handy. I know even when it comes to taking something personally, it’s just better to laugh it off. My first couple of years of teaching and even now to a certain extent, I had this probably of thinking everything was my fault or that everything was in my hands when plans didn’t go as planned; but at the end of the day, you can’t think that way, it isn’t healthy. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just laugh it off. Breathe and come in the next day with a smile.
So, while these qualities are certainly not the end-all-be-all to becoming a good teacher, they are what I feel is a good start thinking as a good teacher. Teaching is not an easy profession despite popular belief and is one that takes some skill and time to get used to becoming an even better teacher. I’m still not where I want to be as an educator but with the lovely comments my students shared with me and those “aha!” moments that make it really worth it, I feel I may be on the right path after all.