When I think about teachers who truly influenced me, they all had one thing in common: they knew me. They understood my strengths, weaknesses, sense of humor, encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, and took interest in my life outside of school. They cheered from the stands at my championship soccer game, held high expectations for me academically, and would never hold back from calling me out when I was slacking off.
Of course I also had many teachers who weren’t as influential – they didn’t know me. I remember sitting in their classes, staring at the clock waiting for the bell to ring so I could run off to my next class where I would get a friendly ‘Hello’, was asked how my SAT prep was going, and received a well thought-out lesson that was both engaging and challenging. I had an immense amount of respect for these teachers. They clearly worked hard to master their content, develop creative and effective lessons, and went above and beyond to form real connections with us. That is the type of teacher I want to be.
Knowing your students doesn’t mean you have to be the basketball coach or start a robotics club (although that would be fantastic). Knowing your students means understanding students’ strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what engages them most. Knowing how to push them to be the best they can be. Providing opportunities for students to think outside of the box and show their creative side. Challenging them. Treating them with respect. And of course giving the occasional high-five 🙂 You get the idea.
Remember, school isn’t everyone’s ‘thing’. Some teachers forget that the reason we are here isn’t just to teach students about DNA or the quadratic formula. Although academics might be the reason our profession exists, we must remember that we are also teaching students how to be be hard working, persistent, self-motivated, and respectful individuals – which in turn will lead students to success in life, whatever that might look like.