Part 2 is a more personal account. It complements Part 1 – What Makes a Good School Teacher
A good School Teacher recognises when students make an effort to understand concepts and complete tasks, especially when they are struggling. Repeated failure can affect a person’s level of motivation and self-esteem. Maths is and always has been a mystery to me. However, I always tried my best to complete homework, even though I could not understand or apply much of the knowledge imparted in class. One of my high school maths teachers, Mrs Slade, recognised this and acknowledged my efforts.
She knew I wanted to perform well and that I was anxious and frustrated because I couldn’t. Once, she reminded me that I had talent in other areas and suggested that I concentrate on what I was good at, and not worry too much about my lack of ability in her subject. This may seem like contradictory advice in a world where “You can achieve anything if you try hard enough” is often seen as the only acceptable mantra. She admitted that not everyone was good at Maths, and that was okay. Her appreciation of my efforts and her realistic view of the situation boosted my resilience and lessened my anxiety about failure.
Skillful teachers know that there are many ways to give constructive feedback. Spelling out where students went wrong, or giving too much information about how to satisfactorily complete a task does students a disservice. Pupils can come to expect “spoon-feeding” and this impedes their ability to problem solve, look for information, and think independently. If the student is still unsure of what is expected after the teacher has pointed them in the right direction, then the teacher can explain what is required in more detail.
For example, instead of rewriting a sentence after crossing it out, a constructive comment might read “Can you think of a better choice of words in this context?” and the marker might underline the segment in question. This gives students an opportunity to reflect and they are more likely not to make similar mistakes in the future. Similarly, some students inadvertently make mistakes, and can correct these once errors are brought to their attention. Students need different amounts of feedback depending on their abilities, the difficulty of the task, and a variety of other factors.
The “sandwich approach” is an effective way of giving feedback. The teacher begins by mentioning what the student did well, then focuses on how they can improve, and ends with positive reinforcement. This keeps learners motivated, and reminds them to take a broader view of tasks and their achievements.
A good teacher is firm but fair. He or she lets the students know that inappropriate behaviour and repeated failure to complete tasks without a reasonable excuse will lead to consequences and clearly explains what these consequences are. However, the teachers also recognises that their subject is not the centre of the universe, and that students need a break in order to produce their best work.
Empathetic teachers emphasise the importance of taking regular breaks from study. They acknowledge that a student’s mental health comes before academic success. If a student is experiencing issues that may negatively impact their mental and emotional well-being, teachers should encourage them to talk to someone they trust, and if necessary, inform others so the pupil can get the right kind of help.
Dedicated teachers encourage each member of the class to contribute to discussions. They do this by creating an atmosphere where everybody feels confident to respectfully express themselves. They validate contributions from those who are overshadowed by more confident classmates so that everyone can have their say.
Finally, exceptional teachers invite students to take responsibility for their own learning. One way to do this is to invite students to parent teacher interviews and include students in discussions about their work. These discussions can start from the first day of kindergarten – even a five-year-old can participate in a 20 minute discussion of how they’re doing at school. The School Teacher just has to take care to use age-appropriate language, as well as give clear and concise feedback and suggestions for improvement.
Inclusive discussions send the message that learning is a joint effort. The student bears a significant share of the responsibility for his or her own learning. Such exchanges between parents, teachers and students are invaluable, particularly in larger classes where instructors rarely have much one-on-one time with students.
Great teachers do much more than just impart their knowledge and enthusiasm for a particular subject to their class. They are attentive listeners, thorough observers, and conscientious communicators who strive to bring out the best in both their students and themselves.