by Nia Johnson
There are good teachers and then there are great teachers. There are those who teach and transfer information, and there are those who excite students about learning and plant seeds for a love of learning. To be a truly great teacher, a passion must be in your heart and emanate to your students through your enthusiasm, and your own unique methods of bringing the classroom to life.
The annual selection of those holding the title of “Teacher of the Year” locally and nationally, celebrates those teachers who have taken their calling as a teacher to new heights. They are the “go to” teachers who offer a wealth of fresh ideas. They keep their students engaged, parents informed and involved. They’ve also been successful in making their administrator a collaborative partner in highlighting classroom excellence. They are also teachers who are themselves the perpetual student.
Whether you are a new teacher or seasoned teacher, here are some tips to help you take your teaching career to the next level.
Best Practices for New and Veteran Teachers
1. Be Flexible
Flexibility and knowing your students’ needs is critical. Set goals and figure out your class needs before you start. Adapt – Your classroom situation may change from day-to-day, class-to-class and book-to-book. It is critical that you are able to be flexible and can think on the spot.
In teaching, everything is in a constant state of change. Interruptions and disruptions are the norm and very few days are “typical.” Therefore, a flexible attitude is important not only for your stress level but also for your students who expect you to be in charge and take control of any situation.
2. Be a Life-long Learner
Be prepared to look at yourself at various stages of your teaching career. You not only must be aware of what’s going on with your students, but you must also be aware of your development and changes in teaching as well. Keep a journal, attend professional development sessions, read about new and innovative classroom ideas in books and on the internet.
It will benefit you greatly to take graduate classes, and attend education-related seminars, conferences and conventions. Stay abreast of changes in education through membership in organizations that will provide you with networking opportunities as well as a window into fresh perspectives, concepts and developments.
3. Have a Sense of Humor
A sense of humor can help you to have a long-lasting career as a teacher. Don’t take everything so seriously. If you can laugh at yourself from time to time, it helps your students to identify with you on a deeper level.
Your sense of humor can relieve tense classroom situations before they become disruptions. It will also make class more enjoyable for your students and possibly make students look forward to attending class and paying attention. Most importantly, a healthy sense of humor will allow you to see the joy in life and make you a happier person as you progress through this sometimes stressful career.
4. Take Time to Really Get to Know Your Students
The students who will sit before you, regardless of the age or grade, all come from unique backgrounds, home situations, life experiences, and personal challenges. They will bring all of those things into the classroom, along with their gifts and talents. Your job is to balance it all in your approach to teaching. It’s vital that you, as a teacher, don’t get so caught up in the job of teaching that you miss the “person” seated before you.
Your job as teacher, for better or worse, requires you to see needs that others may have missed – simply for the fact that you may spend more time with the student than their parents and other adults in their lives. It may not be in your job description, but a good teacher must first “see” the student in order to teach and reach them.
5. Maintain High Expectations for Your Students and Yourself
An effective teacher must have high expectations. You should strive to raise the bar for your students. If you expect less you will receive less. You should work on an attitude that says that you know students can achieve to your level of expectations, thereby giving them a sense of confidence too. This is not to say that you should create unrealistic expectations. However, your expectations will be one of the key factors in helping students learn and achieve. Praise them when appropriate and set up reward systems.
A positive attitude is a great asset in life. You will be thrown many curve balls, especially in the teaching profession. A positive attitude will help you cope with these in the best way. Students typically will rise to your expectations, make sure they are high!
6. Be Consistent and Fair
In order to create a positive learning environment your students should know what to expect from you each day. This will create a better learning environment for the students and they will be more likely to succeed. It is amazing that students can adapt to teachers throughout the day that range from strict to easy. However, they will dislike an environment in which the rules are constantly changing.
Many people confuse fairness and consistency. A consistent teacher is the same person from day to day. A fair teacher treats students equally in the same situation. For example, students complain of unfairness when teachers treat one gender or group of students differently. It would be terribly unfair to go easier on the football players in a class than on the cheerleaders. Students pick up on this quickly, so be careful of being labeled unfair.
7. Incorporate Culture in the Classroom
Your students bring a wealth of tradition, family experiences and culture into the classroom. You, as a teacher should look for every opportunity to make those cultural connections in your lessons. Look for opportunities to bring the classroom to life. This may be a good time to involve parents in classroom assignments, whether sharing cultural stories, bringing in dishes from their native country or clothing or art. You may be surprised how enthusiastic parents and students may be about these projects.
Regardless of the subject matter, with just a little research you can incorporate historical references, guest speakers, foods from around the world, art, and music into lessons to help students get more involved.
Don’t forget to share your culture in the classroom as well.
8. Be Willing to Share Yourself
It may not always seem rewarding, but many teachers play crucial roles in the lives of students. For some students, teachers offer a glimpse into a world of endless possibilities. We’ve all heard the stories of successful people looking back and thanking those special teachers in their lives who served as role models, mentors, and encouragers.
In addition to your role of imparting knowledge, sharing a little about your education or relevant stories may help students connect to you even more, and inspire them at the same time. Students listen intently when the wall comes down, even for a moment, and they get a chance to see behind the person standing at the front of the classroom with a book giving directions.
9. Stay Abreast of Ever-changing Technology
Staying up on the latest technology is key to your success. Not only do you need to know what technology students are using, but it allows you to make sure that your instruction remains relevant. You should seek ways to incorporate technology into lessons. But keeping up with rapidly changing technology takes effort. Sign up for training workshops whenever it is offered, and take classes to make sure that your students don’t outpace you.
10. Connect the Dots
Students are often looking for ways to understand how their education relates to their every day lives. They will want to know when in life will I ever use information about primary numbers or why they are studying Shakespeare. Some of their questions and concerns about relevancy are valid, and you will have to think about how to address them and review classroom instruction and assignments. Your job will be to help them make the connections to their current education and future possibilities. The world is changing, and as today’s students prepare to compete in a global economy, it is going to vital that they have a solid world view, and strong educational foundation.
While no two teachers are exactly the same, there are some teaching practices that have proven to be effective and stand the test of time. Take the time to self-assess to determine what’s working and possibly what needs to be adjusted in your classroom.
You have one of the most important jobs in the world – you touch the lives of tomorrow’s leaders. You have a chance to make a difference, mold young minds and develop excellence and greatness. Are you ready for the challenge?