In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I shared direct feedback, in the actual words of students, regarding the characteristics that compelled them to nominate individual teachers for a Teacher of the Week program that I experimented with about ten years ago.
It is my contention that we can learn the most about what matters in the classroom by taking the time to listen to students – and by valuing their feedback. Students live in the world of today. Their time is now. What takes place in the classroom on a daily basis impacts them directly. Students know what good teachers look like. We just have to take the time to listen.
Since the feedback for this program came from middle school students, a great deal of the positive comments focused on teachers who took the time to make their classrooms emotionally safe for children.
The teachers that were most often nominated (such as “Mrs. Violet” who is referenced specifically in the first two parts of this series) were able to create a special emotional bond with their students. In short, it is very apparent that the teachers that demonstrated compassion and caring towards their students were the ones that earned the most nominations (and I would posit the most respect) from the students.
To conclude my research into what students recognized as qualities that warranted a nomination for “Teacher of the Week,” I perused all the forms and made note of the all of the adjectives and descriptors (all again in the students’ own words) that were most commonly written. What follows is a list of the most frequently used descriptors. I have ranked these terms into a top ten list of sorts. Following this, I will make some final conclusions based on these findings.
The 10 Most Common Words/Phrases To Describe Teachers Nominated for the Teacher of the Week Program:
- Nice/Very Nice
- Fun/Makes Learning Fun
- Can Cheer You Up
- Always There for Me
- Makes Me Smile/Laugh
- I Learn From Her/Him
- I Love Her/Him
The following words also were used as reasons for nominations, but were not used quite enough to make the list above. These terms are not listed in any particular order:
Encourages, Prepares, Great Person, Interesting, Friendly, Considerate, A Friend, Awesome, Coach, Respectful, Happy, Caring, Gives Advice, The Best, Enthusiastic, Energetic, Prepares Us, Hard Working, Empathy, Fair, “Rocks,” Listens, Creative, Hands-On, Freedom, Compliments, Motivates, Understanding, and Loving.
In short, I believe it all comes down to relationships.
It seems, from this study at least, that the teachers that were most often recognized by the students were the ones that made special personal connections with the students. The descriptors above were used across all four of the grade levels in the school (grades five through eight). The data shows that the students did not nominate teachers because they were skilled in certain areas. Not one student gave a nomination for a teacher because that instructor was a great musician or a great mathematician. Program was not specifically referenced. Language arts, science history, reading, and writing were not mentioned on any of the nomination forms. Special areas such a physical education, orchestra, chorus, wood shop, technology, library, or home economics, were also absent from the descriptions. Students simply didn’t note any particular area of study as a reason for nominating a teacher. The students didn’t nominate a teacher because they loved the content or the subject matter. It was more than that. In this situation, at least, the students were able to look past “programs,” or the curriculum. Instead, the characteristics these students seemed to care the most about were heart and compassion, understanding, friendship, humor, and, yes, even love. Those interpersonal traits were the characteristics that compelled students to nominate their teachers. These students nominated the teachers that they most respected because, and I think this is very clear, those were the teachers that most respected their students.
This is a powerful message, one we should not take lightly.
As summer winds down, and as administrators (myself included) complete our planning for a new school year, we must keep this information in mind. Schools and districts will be rolling out new courses of study and revised goals and standards. A great deal of time will also be spent examining standardized test scores. Conversely, a lot less time will be spent looking at the relationships that teachers establish with children. This is not to say that curriculum doesn’t matter. It does, of course. Curriculum is a critical foundation on which great schools are built. Test scores and programs also matter. But, what takes place in the classroom is more than a program, a lesson plan template, or a test. What matters the most in classrooms are the personal interactions between teachers and students. When those interactions are positive, students are put in the best position to learn.
When students are in classrooms with caring adults, they thrive. Children learn best in environments where they are respected, valued, understood, and loved.
As we prepare for a new school year, we must remember the single most important element in every single classroom is the teacher.