This year, my son decided to try something new and enrolled in a theater arts class at his high school. I was proud of him for taking a risk and engaging his curiosity. While he isn’t a stage actor, he was interested in working on the team that managed sound during the productions. The students in the class have been working all semester to prepare for their school musical, and he invited me to come and observe their pre-opening night rehearsal. It was so fun to see him with the earphones on working the sound booth!
At the end of the rehearsal, the students gathered on stage to receive feedback from the director. As I sat and listened from the audience, a positive and energetic teacher approached me from behind and asked if I was his father. When I confirmed that I was, she proceeded to tell me how much she enjoyed having him in class, what a terrific student he was and how grateful she was that we shared him with her. As we closed the conversation, I couldn’t help but think, “Every student deserves a teacher like her!”
What was it about this experience that struck me so deeply? It wasn’t that she was complimenting my son. It was the obviously genuine love and kindness she felt toward him. She could see his talent, and she affirmed it. She enjoyed his contributions to the class, and she told him. She gave him opportunities to try new things and encouraged him while he learned. He has really excelled with her as his teacher and is eager to participate in her course. And this is all because she makes her relationship with him as her student a priority. You see, I believe that if we really want to have the greatest impact on our learners, we have to start by making sure they know that we care about them as unique individuals and make our investment in their success visible.
In an article published by “The Guardian,” a 16-year-old said, “The perfect teacher. [To some], that probably means exemplary lesson plans and 30 immaculately marked books with targets for improvement. But, as a 16-year-old, I’m not sure I agree. What students love about the best teachers – the ones whose lessons are discussed at the dinner table, whose names are always remembered and whose impact is never forgotten – is quite different.” It is about showing you care.
So how can we do that? How do we build positive relationships with our learners in a way that they can visibly see? This young author shares a few ideas for us to consider and the impact each has had on him personally:
Put in the time to get to know your students as people.
- “Although passion is inspiring, a deep knowledge and understanding of [your students] is just as important… I have a teacher, who from the beginning of my two-year course, offered an after-school session every single week… I am often the only one there but she doesn’t mind. She has completely changed my life by believing in me, pushing me and caring about me… Know[ing] someone values you enough to put in time is amazing.”
- “Respect isn’t about having 30 silent faces shouted to submission. If you treat us as humans, know what you’re talking about and take an interest in what we have to say, you will gain our respect.”
Show your personality (but not too much – his words not mine)
- “The best teachers are the ones whose personalities are so bright that the light bulbs inside 30 heads are switched on anyway. We genuinely like the teachers who smile [and] who can do the voices in books without feeling embarrassed… We know you’re not here to be our friend, but some sort of relationship is important.”
Tell them when they have done well.
- “Teachers may be expected to write pages of feedback, but if you want to improve your students’ self-esteem and encourage them to further their thinking, it’s the verbal feedback that really sinks in.”
Being a teacher is hard work. It requires not only expert skill sets, but also high emotional intelligence. As you consider the impact you have on the students you are blessed to serve, I invite you to find one way you can begin to make your care for them a bit more visible. Once they know how much you care, I am confident they will be interested in knowing how much you know.
DR. STEVEN WURTZ
Chief Academic Officer