This past summer I had the opportunity to serve on a selection panel given the charge of choosing several K-12 teachers for national recognition. Many of the nominees had already been selected as the “Teacher of the Year” from their own states. All had established themselves as master teachers – the kind of educators that all parents desire to teach their children.
As part of the nomination process, each applicant needed to respond to a series of writing prompts. One prompt asked the applicant what advice he or she would give to a beginning teacher. Although the nominees came from across the country – some from small rural communities, others from large urban settings – I was struck by how similar their responses were to that prompt, and I thought that those common themes would be worth sharing with my own pre-service teachers. Below were the top five.
1. Choose a wise mentor – Find a person in your building that you think has it all together and learn as much as you can from that individual. Emulate that teacher’s positive qualities, but don’t think that you must match his or her personality. The mentor should be someone with passion, knowledge, and who is respected within the education community and might not necessarily be the mentor that had been assigned to you by your building administrator. Take time to watch that person teach. Ask questions. What “best practices” does he or she demonstrate?
2. Be passionate about what you do – Teaching is not a job; it is a way of life and it carries a 24/7/365 responsibility. You set the tone for your classroom, so if you want your students to be excited about learning, then you should be, too. With passion comes powerful learning, and you never know how your passion can affect the lives and the future of your students. Great teachers are passionate about both their subject matter and their profession.
3. Develop meaningful relationships with your students – Get to know your students well and use that information to determine how and what you teach. Use their interests to paint dreams for them with positive affirmations. Shape your interactions with them so that they know how much you truly care about them beyond their test scores. Students will work harder and learn more if they know you care, and their parents will be more likely to support additional learning at home if they know they are valued by the school and play a significant role in their children’s education.
4. Have high expectations for your students – If you believe in them and give them the tools to succeed, they will work hard at trying to improve. Great teachers have high expectations for student success. They fully expect each student to excel.
5. Don’t be afraid to fail – Great teachers learn from their mistakes. Even the best-planned lesson doesn’t always work. Be willing to laugh at yourself and be willing to take risks. Your students will be watching, and if you get frustrated and give up, so will they. Model for them how to learn from one’s failures. It just might be your most valuable teaching.