During Teacher Appreciation Week, many educators shared with us stories of their favorite teachers. There were three themes that seemed to resonate the most with the educators: setting high expectations, sharing a love of reading, and creating new experiences with content. So regardless of the knowledge of tech or content you possess, if you are doing any of these three things, chances are high that your students will never forget what you taught them…and they’ll never forget you.
Setting High Expectations
As a teacher, we can set the bar high or low for our students. Even if we don’t say the words, they know when we don’t expect much from them, or worse, when we assume they can’t learn. This is not a new thing or idea. In fact, if you have ever heard educator and speaker Ken Shelton speak, he tells a story of being the only Black student in his honors courses in high school. It wasn’t just his teachers that didn’t believe in him and gave him a hard time, the public school system was set up to keep people like him out of honors courses. Setting high expectations for every student is not just what good teachers do, it’s also a huge factor in being a culturally responsive educator.
How do you know if you are setting high standards for your students?
Here’s a few ideas you can implement in your pedagogy:
- Give prompt and meaningful feedback,
- Require students to go back and correct work, especially if it’s not up to the standards you set.
- Praise the process and growth over time more than the grade or finished product.
- Offer a clean slate daily.
Share Your Love of Reading
My fifth grade teacher, Mr. Stephen Poage, read books and relished the moments when he was able to make creepy sounds or silly voices. He really got into the read alouds and they were a regular part of our class time. As a teacher, I kept him in the back of my mind and that’s how I read to my students as well. Reading with excitement also keeps your students awake!
Not all of our students are strong readers and they may feel their own literacy seems out of reach. Our job is to share joy, representation, and welcome them into the experience! When we’ve opened a new world to them through a story we are sharing, they feel included in something magical. They will never forget these experiences. Their desire to grow as a reader, and their ability to find pleasure in reading will be something you helped add to their lives.
In middle school, Profesora Shell fried plantains in class. She wasn’t just teaching us to speak in Spanish, she was sharing her culture with us. I learned more than just vocabulary and conjugation in seventh and eighth grade Spanish. I learned poems, words of love, and how to make crepes. To this day, whatever I can speak is because of her and not because of the years of Spanish in high school or college. The experiences she gave us far surpassed what other teachers did. It wasn’t because she was competing with other teachers. She just wanted us to know and experience her Columbian roots so we would pursue and go deeper into this foreign language.
With all that we have to do and teach, creating experiences can seem overwhelming. Some might even quip it’s beyond our pay grade. But lasting learning goes beyond words on a page and answering questions at the end of a chapter or on a test.
So how can we create these experiences without taking on too much or breaking the bank?
- Ask for help! There will be parents who will do what they can and even your teammates are good resources.
- Start small and grow. You don’t have to plan something special for every unit. Maybe one special experience per quarter or twice a year. It’s definitely about quality and not quantity.
- Go with the flow if the experience isn’t working out exactly like you thought. Chances are likely when we allow for student voice/choice, our plans might be derailed but the outcome will actually be better.
- Don’t think you need big bucks! Some fun props can come from what you already have or borrow from someone else.
Teachers are amazing. What other profession molds the minds of so many people? We create pathways without even knowing it. Sometimes we get to see the fruits of our labor and sometimes we do what we can and hope for the best! Thank you for all you do for students. Your footprint in their hearts is one that lasts a lifetime.