What Makes a GREAT Teacher? - A Parent's Perspective
In my humble opinion, teachers have one of the most important jobs in the world. You educate the leaders of tomorrow. You help them as they navigate and befriend a classroom full of students who are both very different and very similar to them in a variety of ways. You help them make sense of what is sometimes a scary, yet beautiful and loving world. You are likely one of the most important adults in your students' lives right now.
Any parent will tell you that their child is their most precious gift. The best way I have found to describe it is that my children are like my heart outside of my body, vulnerably walking around in this big, scary, beautiful, loving world. To me, there is not a job more important than whoever is caring for and teaching my children when it is not me. One year from now, when I am sending my daughter on her first day of kindergarten, I will be putting my faith in her teacher that she will return safely, knowing that her teacher is a grown-up she can trust, who cares about her and who makes her excited to learn and return to school the next day.
So as I prepare to send my first child out into the big world (your classroom) where she will be surrounded by new children and grown-ups, ready to learn and explore this big world, I share with you what I hope for her teachers.
Develop strong relationships with your students. Really get to know them and show an interest in them, their friends, and their family life. How are they adjusting to school? Are they making friends, or do they fly solo? Learn about their dreams and encourage them. Seek out your students' strengths and offer opportunities to use them and feel that joy of doing something they both like and are good at.
Get to know your students' parents. Involve them when you can beyond parent-teacher conferences. As parents, we send our kids off to their first days of school and never really know what happens. Did my daughter make a friend, or feel lonely through the day? Was someone unkind to her? Was she unkind to someone else? Is she grasping the content in class? Does she participate? Openly share your concerns, but also tell us what our kids are doing well. Because the common response to "How was school today?" is "fine" we'd love to know what we can talk with our kids about, and how we can work with them to support what you are doing in the classroom.
Communicate openly and honestly with your students' parents. It's a scary time to be raising little ones. At home we try to raise our kids to be kind, generous, helpful, and friendly. In our supervised playdates, we, as parents, can monitor that and help them process it when others do not do the same. In the news we hear about bullies, mass shootings, and terrorist attacks. Talk with parents about the scary stuff, and give us comfort about the plan your school has in place. Share with us how you prepare your students and how we can help them deal with a sometimes scary world. We, as parents, are taking a big leap of faith putting the well-being of our precious children in the hands of their teachers. Don't underestimate your importance in their lives. Communicate with us personally, honestly, and often. Help us know that you care for our children and reassure us.
Don't lose your energy for your students and teaching. Over the years I have met with a handful of student teachers who I wish I could hand pick to teach my own children. Some of my favorite career coaching appointments over the years are the ones in which the student teacher I am assisting with a resume lights up talking about their experiences with their students, an especially creative lesson, how they helped a student overcome a challenge or reach a goal. The passion they had for teaching, and how well they got to know their students and how very much they cared for them were delightfully evident. Don't lose that passion for teaching, love for your students, your creativity, or the energy and dedication to helping them succeed. Those things are what draw your students to you and what gives a parent comfort that their child is having a good experience at school.
Never underestimate how important you are in the lives of your students. For many, especially the youngest, your role in your students' lives may be similar to that of a parent. Whatever your grade level, content area, or specialty, thank you for educating, loving, supporting, encouraging, challenging, and caring for our children, your students, the leaders of tomorrow.
Assistant Director, Career Development