Teacher. Be the teacher you wish you had. Is that what we want? Deep down, whether we are willing to admit it or not, we really want people to like us.
Not just grown-up people like parents, colleagues and administrators, but little people, too.
We want to imagine students getting the letter in the mail with your name on it and seeing them do a fist-pumping, “YES!” in the driveway.
How can we make sure we are the teacher everyone loves? Here are several ways we can be our best selves as we start the new year.
build a community
“Once you are in my class, you are my student forever.” I’ve seen this meme, or some rendition of this meme, on Facebook and I find myself nodding my head.
We need to make sure our classroom is a community of learners who are there to learn and grow from one another. Building this community takes time, but it’s well worth the time. I love the book, Our Classroom is a Family.
At one time there was a kindergarten objective for knowing what a community was. Students learned a community is “where we live, work, and play.”
This is a great start for building a community. Communities also have rules, community helpers, and events. When students learn to behave like a community, they build relationships, develop trust, and help each other reach higher.
Teach Collaboration Skills
Building a community leads right into teaching students to collaborate with one another. We need to teach students how to talk, respond, and ask questions to each other.
We also need to help them help each other. While working in a kindergarten class this Spring, I was asked to help create an environment for independent literacy work stations.
One of the first things the class and I discussed was their responsibilities during this independent time.
Before releasing the students to their centers I ask, “What do you do if you don’t know what to do?” We all hold up 3 fingers: We ask a friend. We check the center board. We raise our hand.”
I want the students to ask a friend for help before they try other ideas. I want them to lean on each other.
When they are reading to each other, students are taught to offer a “help or a hint” when their reading buddy gets “stuck” on a word. Students of all reading levels know how to suggest a fix-it strategy to give a hint or to help each other by supplying the word. Students who know how to help each other are more likely to actually help each other. When their environment is safe, they will love coming to school.
Be a Good Listener
As teachers, we tend to talk, talk, talk. We are large and in charge and we take advantage of it. BUT, teachers who create students who love learning, need to listen to our learners. We need to hear them both verbally and non verbally. We need to listen to their weekend fun and their birthday party antics. The need to hear about soccer practice or playing with a friend. We also need to listen to them non verbally. We need to know when a drooped head means they’ve had a bad morning, or a grumpy start might have nothing to do with us at all. Students want to be able to tell you all the bad stuff, too. They don’t really want much in return: a hug, a tissue to wipe their tears, and a soothing voice. They need you to be on their side.
Students have to know you are human. You make mistakes. You laugh. You have fun. You are silly. You are not perfect. When you make a mistake, own it. They will not hold it against you, they will love you for it. Showing them you can start over or fix a mistake with an eraser or a new paper, only makes them feel ok about their mistakes. I also like to share my life with them. I go to Wal-Mart. I go to church. I go out to eat with my family. I celebrate birthday parties and holidays. I love to read for pleasure. You certainly don’t have to invite them to be with you, but knowing your life let’s them want to share theirs. Teachers are people.
Be an Active Learner
It’s not ok to stop learning. I’m sorry if I offend anyone with this section, but I’m pretty passionate about making sure we know what best practices are AND we make sure we are using them.
My best friend had a fourth grade teacher who was amazing. It was her favorite teacher for all of the reasons I’ve listed above and more.
She was the teacher “the parents” wanted each year. Fast forward twenty years, and my best friend’s son got this teacher for fourth grade. She was excited.
But her excitement soon changed to concern when it appeared her son was bringing home the same work she had done twenty years before.
The family projects were the same and the routines and teaching style was the same. We have to want to be the best and the best we were twenty years ago is not the best we can be today.
I am in the twenty-ninth year of teaching and what I know about reading today is categorically different than I knew about reading twenty years ago. We have to demand more of ourselves than learning a skill and not updating our learning along the way.
It’s the most important one of all. Regardless of your teaching style or your personality, we show our love in a variety of ways. We listen, we build, we value, we learn, we want more for them. Loving them doesn’t mean we let them do what they want. Loving them doesn’t mean accepting less from them than we should.
We must want more from them and for them. We must not let anything get in our way. We could be the only thing between them having a life they want and being stuck in a life they don’t.