What Students Want in a Teacher
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If you've ever wanted to know what students really want in a teacher, you are going to love this episode! We dive into the results from research done by Educational Leadership and talk about what they mean for the classroom.
What are the 9 things students want in a teacher? You just might be surprised by what they said...
Students Want Teachers to Take Them Seriously
We all have them... those kids with the wild ideas. However, it’s a good reminder to do our best not to laugh when some of our students share their crazy, off the wall ideas, even when we really want to and even when their ideas are off the charts. Just like all of us, our students really just want to be valued – and validated – for their thinking and for their ideas.
Students Want Teachers to Challenge Them to Think
It goes without saying that we want to encourage students to think deeply and become critical thinkers. However, sometimes we get so focused on getting done what we need to that we are hesitant to ask extending questions like “Why do you think that?” and to encourage students to tell us more about why and how they have come to the conclusions they have.
Also, do what you can to help your students become critical problem solvers, especially with real-life problems. My students LOVED it when I told them stories about my two little dogs, Tango & Sparky, and so one day I came to school and told them about how I found Tango at the front door and asked them, “How do you think she got there?” when there was a baby gate separating them from the upper level of our house and the front door below...
I also loved to involve my students in helping me to think through problems we were having in our classroom. So, for example, in my classroom we held a class auction twice each year, and my students could earn “Scholar Dollars” to spend at our auction.
One of my students lost his little envelope of Scholar Dollars, so I held a class meeting and we all decided on how to solve this problem and to think through what we would and should do. This meeting and discussion encouraged my students to think and helped to reinforce the understanding that I took them seriously and honored and valued their ideas.
Students Want Teachers to Nurture Their Self-Respect
One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is by giving students leadership roles and responsibility, such as class jobs, so students can take turns in leadership positions and take on different forms of responsibility in the classroom.
Other ways we can do this is by featuring a “Student of the Week.” In our classroom, we had something called “Special Fridays” that parents signed up for, and we featured one student almost every week throughout the year.
This was a great way to help highlight the individual gifts and talents that each student had, and reinforced the idea in our classroom that each child was special.
Students Want Teachers to Show Them that They Can Make a Difference
Kids really are natural-born helpers (well, in my experience, until they become teen-agers, that is... lol), and they absolutely love to help and to do things for others. When they feel like the way they are helping really matters and makes a difference, it can be life-changing for them.
During Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Week at our school, one of the things I did with my students was to brainstorm as many Random Acts of Kindness we could think of and then actually do as many of them as we could.
One of the things that seemed to make the biggest impact on my students was actually seeing the secretary’s face light up when they brought her a surprise plate of cookies to thank her for all of her hard work, or when we cleaned the walls in the hallway as a gift to our custodian.
Knowing that they had done something that really made a difference to someone made them feel so important – and that’s a rare experience for children, especially because they are so often in the role of being “cared for” rather than being care-givers.
Students Want Teachers to Point Them Towards their Goals
Each reporting period, we complete Three Stars & Two Wishes Flip books (you can check them out in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store here). These flip books help my students to not only establish their goals, but a plan for how to get there, and includes a contract that we all sign (the child, the parent or parents, and myself) to help keep us on track each reporting period.
Completing this activity together helps my students to become active participants during our conferences, and helps us all to get super clear about the goals they are setting and working towards. These flip books are available at my TpT store, Beginning Teacher Talk, so you can go ahead and check it out there if you’re interested in creating these super adorable flip books with your students!
In upper elementary, you can also create contracts that highlight your students' strengths but that also identify the main goals they have for that semester or term, based on their report card. Helping students to establish and then work towards their goals is super important for students to start to gain an awareness of their strength areas and areas that they need to focus on growth in.
Students Want Teachers to Make Them Feel Important
This is true for pretty much all of us, right?
There are so many ways that we can do this, but I really learned this from one of my mentor teachers, Lorraine Wolsey. One thing I remember most about Lorraine is that she could tell you something special about every single one of her students, and would brag them up to other adults any chance that she got.
I can still hear her voice:
“Mrs. Friesen, this is Taylor, and Taylor is an incredible gymnast. She’s been competing since she was little. Taylor, tell Mrs. Friesen about one of the awards you’ve gotten for gym lately. You are such a little superstar, Taylor!”
Her students were in 6th grade, and you should have seen their faces light up when she talked about her students this way, especially in front of other adults. Is it any wonder that her students would do anything in the world for her?
Another thing you can do is to give your students who cause the most trouble and the most problems in your classroom the most coveted jobs. Often these are the kids who really do need the most attention, and they may not have gotten a whole lot of positive attention from the adults in their lives.
You just may be the first person in their life to make them feel important, and letting them know that you trust them with the most important jobs in your classroom will mean the world to that kid.
Students Want Teachers to Build on Their Interests
We all know in theory how important it is to take students’ interests into account when we are planning our lessons, and one way I learned about what students were really into was by having my students fill out an “Interest Inventory” at the beginning of each year.
It’s just a simple survey that I ask students to fill out that tells me about what they like to do in their free time and on weekends, and also what they really don’t like to do. I keep these on hand throughout the year and try to position my students as experts who can help us to learn about a specific topic if it’s something they’re really interested in. I had a little boy who was OBSESSED with soccer one year, so I was sure to ask for his help with explaining the game when our class was learning to play.
Doing those kinds of “getting to know you” activities at the beginning of the year also helps students find things they have in common and build friendships based on similar interests. I actually do an activity called “Something in Common” that challenges students to find 10 things they have in common with other students, and kids are often surprised by some of the connections they make. I have an entire resource of 14 Fantastic First Week of School Activities that is available on TpT if you’re interested in checking it out.
Students Want Teachers to Tap Their Creativity
One of the most common ways that I really encouraged creativity in my classroom was through writing, and a lot of the time, I really tried to encourage the most purposeful writing I could in my classroom because I really wanted my students to understand the point of writing.
So, my students did 10-15 minutes of journal-writing each day, and often I would give them a prompt to get them started which they could choose to use or not to use, but often, it was something that I genuinely wanted their input about.
So, similarly to when I asked for my students’ input about what we should do if someone lost their Scholar Dollars, I would ask things like, “What is one way we could improve our classroom library book check-out system?” or “How do you think we could get everything done and get ready for home time more efficiently?”
Kids really do buy in to what they help to create, so I loved asking for their creative solutions to common problems we were having in our classroom.
I would also ask for suggestions. For example, if someone had a question or a problem they were trying to solve, they could write it down and I would choose some of them for our class to solve during our writing time each day.
My students loved coming up with creative solutions to solve everyday problems, and it also helped my students to write for a purpose, so it was a win-win for everyone!
Students Want Teachers to Bring Out the Best in Them
I thought this last point was the most interesting one of them all. But it makes sense, right?
When you think back to “that teacher” – you know, the one (or ones) who inspired you to become a teacher yourself, it was probably that person who brought the best out in you.
It was probably that person who challenged you to be more than you are, who believed in you, and who saw something in you that allowed you to believe more for yourself.
Those are the teachers who truly stand out, and those are the ones we remember, decades later, when we are making choices for our own lives and careers.
I had a lot of incredible teachers throughout my career, but two stand out for me especially because of how they helped me to understand that one of my biggest talents was my writing.
I will never forget my 6th grade teacher calling my parents to the school for a special conference – it turns out she was very concerned because a story I wrote about a little girl who was abused by an alcoholic father was so realistic that she was concerned that the story might have elements of truth in it.
I remember thinking it was so hilarious because I had completely made the story up based on a TV show I had seen, but apparently I had written it with so much emotion and it felt so real that she wanted to make sure that there was nothing else going on that we needed to know about.
Once my teacher knew that I was safe, she then went on to absolutely praise my writing in front of my parents, and it was the first time I really thought that maybe I had some talent as a writer.
The second strongest memory of a teacher who brought out the very best in me was my high school English teacher. She was known for being a really tough cookie, and I will never forget her holding up my paper in front of the entire class and telling them that if they wanted to learn how to do descriptive writing, to read my work.
These two teachers, and others like them, helped to bring out the best in me, helped me to identify and define who I am in this world, and I’m sure that as you’ve listened to my stories, you are thinking of the teachers who knew how to bring out the best in you.
Really, all it comes down to is that those teachers were paying attention.
They were watching for what our special talents might be, and they were ready, like angels on earth, to name them, to call them out, and to celebrate them.
I think at the end of the day, that’s one of the things that matters most in our profession: Helping children to see who they are and who they are capable of being in this big world.
What an awesome privilege, hey?
I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse into the minds of students when they were asked what they want in a teacher. This actually might be a really fun exercise to do with your students, to ask them “What do you really want in a teacher?" at the beginning of each year!
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Coming Up Next Week...
Also, be sure to tune in again next week because it is going to be Christmas Day, and for that special occasion, I decided to talk about a very special topic!
We’re going to talk about 10 Awesome Ways to Love Up Your Kiddos, so it’s going to be a really fun one – I am going to share all of the little thoughtful ways that I let my kiddos know how much I love them and think about them, and I think you’re going to love it!
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Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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