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What students want in a teacher

Posted by phourigan on May 11, 2010

I’ve been filling in for a colleague the last two days and because one of the classes had completed the assigned work yesterday, I took the opportunity to ask them a question.  I asked this group of seventh grade boys: “What makes a good teacher?”

I was amazed at their answers.  It was as if they’ve been reading the same sources I’ve been reading about good teaching and learning!  Here’s a summary of what they answered:

A good teacher answers every question.  [Me: Every question?] Well, they take the questions seriously and make sure that everyone feels they’ve been able to ask a question.  They also know that they should let students work by themselves without watching over their shoulder all the time.

A good teacher calls on everyone equally – not just the “smart” kids.

A good teacher shouldn’t move on until everyone gets it. [I took this opportunity to talk with them about the different ways a teacher can tell when it’s okay to move on.  I’m intrigued by the use of cell phones and texting to accomplish this, through websites that allow you to create a poll and have students text the answers.  Every kid in the class had a cell phone (three kids had theirs on them which is currently against our rules) and all but one had an unlimited texting plan.]  It’s not fair that the teacher keeps teaching when some of us don’t understand what we just learned.

A good teacher recognizes that each student learns differently and that each student can be a good student if given the chance.  [This insight was particularly notable because it was made by a boy who does get himself in hot water from time to time.]

A good teacher takes the time to get to know you.  [Me: What difference would that make?]  It would mean what [the previous student] said: that the teacher knows that you learn differently from someone else.  [This comment was made by perhaps the “weakest” student in the grade.]

How is it that a group of seventh grade boys can come to these conclusions while many of our teachers can’t?  As educators in an independent school, we have the advantages of small class size, involved parents (sometimes too involved), motivated students (for the most part) and students with diverse talents.  But we have the awful habit of clinging to the “tried and true” methods where one size fits all and there’s no room for improvisation or innovation.

I know I’m going to start asking my students more questions and paying attention to what they’re saying.  If this is another way to get them to engage, why not?

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One Response to “What students want in a teacher”

  1. Susie said

    You go, Patrick!!

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