Brian D. Hadfield, Middle School Teacher, Chippewa Valley Public Schools, Michigan
Think back to a favorite grade or class in elementary, middle or high school. What was it that made it so enjoyable? The activities? The daily routine? The atmosphere? Probably none of these aspects are at the forefront of anyone’s recollection. It is the teachers, in fact, that one most likely remembers.
What makes some teachers unforgettably remarkable in our personal histories, while others languish like faded Polaroids from our past? Good classroom teachers leave an indelible mark on their pupils in many ways. What makes them successful includes everything from their ability to plan and manage both the classroom and curriculum, to their day-to-day attitude and approach towards students and the profession itself.
A “successful teacher” can be defined as one who is able to boost student scores and achievement despite economic, budgetary or other educational challenges. These teachers reach students, regardless of their social circumstances, on an educational and personal level, challenging them to become better learners. Observational studies have indicated that one of the most important traits these teachers have is a relentless drive towards developing an effective curriculum. Keeping the year-long goals in sight, they plan individual lessons, classroom activities and subject units with this final outcome in mind.
When something doesn't work, they revise and improve their approach. If students’ own personal issues (e.g., behavioral problems, family concerns or living conditions) hamper their ability to learn in any way, the teacher employs methods to reach them on other levels. She might modify classroom behavior plans to more effectively manage a particular group, regularly include parents and family members in the process of getting through to the students, and perhaps most importantly, find ways to connect with the students on a personal level, inspiring respect and motivation which are essential to successful learning.
Establishing this connection with the students can be the most valuable accomplishment of a good teacher. Whether it is learning more about the students themselves – their interests, talents, concerns – or revealing elements of their own personal life, the teacher can create a close-knit atmosphere in the classroom. It might be as simple as displaying photos of one’s family or pets, or sharing humorous stories about something that happened over the weekend, but it makes a significant impact.
When students feel comfortable with their instructor, learning occurs more naturally. A teacher who is kind and understanding, and a sincere listener, inspires mutual respect that motivates students to try harder, participate more and feel at ease expressing when they need help. This can allow the teacher to get through to students who might otherwise close themselves off. By learning about the students as individuals, the teacher discovers how to inspire and teach them in a way that is unique to their particular needs.
Knowing the students well and establishing this sense of mutual respect in the classroom creates a positive atmosphere for the teacher himself to work in each day. He is able to bring more energy and optimism into the workplace, and the students detect and tend to mirror this attitude. While maintaining an organized, well-understood system of classroom management, the teacher is also able to keep his expectations of the students reasonable and “comfortable.” A tough lesson might be brightened by a simple joke from the teacher.
Being able to laugh together and find the humor in day-to-day situations allows the teacher and the students to further establish their bond and enjoy the time they spend together. When students look forward to entering the doors of the classroom, their minds are more open to learning, and their hearts are more easily influenced. The results are advanced understanding of the curriculum as well as improved attitudes and overall character development.
What makes a good teacher goes beyond a simple list of traits. To be the type of teacher that is remembered for years to come, one must incorporate successful planning and management with a unique ability to truly connect with the students. A good teacher knows how to adapt the curriculum to individual needs as well as revise teaching style for different groups. She is relentless, yet patient in her goal to make learning not only effective but fun. By reaching both their minds and their hearts, this type of teacher can impact students’ entire lives in an unlimited number of ways.