I came across this old paper I had shoved in a file at the back of my desk. It was old and yellowed so I thought I would look at it before throwing it away. What I found was a copy of an old letter I had printed out from a newspaper when I began my teaching career 25 years ago. As I read through this letter, it reminded me of the teacher I try to be. It was a great reminder of why we go into the teaching profession. It is all about helping children live up to their potential in a positive atmosphere.
One Teacher’s Influence
(An Open Letter to a Teacher, reprinted from the Chicago Tribune)
Mrs. G. :
You scarcely know me—just two brief conferences, one PTA open house, a quick phone call about a lost book. Yet you have influenced the lives of everyone in our family the last 9 months. Now that school is almost over, I feel free to tell you.
Have you any idea, Mrs. G., how great an effect a teacher has on the families of her pupils? An irritable, un-understanding teacher who often scolds, overwhelms, frightens, pressures, or ridicules a child can upset all of us from September till June. It isn’t easy to pick up the pieces of a youngster after a defeating day at school. And the fear persists that the damage done to a tender self-confidence, to an eagerness for learning, may last long beyond an academic year. Some teachers send home ripples of worry and unhappiness with their pupils, too: the too easy, uncaring, incompetent, the unchallenging, the martinets. Today’s youngsters have so far to go, so much to learn—how many years can they afford to waste? But this year, Mrs. G., you have enriched all of us through our daughter.
Your skill in encouraging our child’s creativity is the most obvious reason for this thank you letter. Her talents seem to have unfolded excitingly under your nurture. But even more, we appreciate the relationship you have established with our Susie. It is an unusual one for a teacher and pupil, one of mutual respect, liking and appreciation. My daughter counts you as a friend, in a special way that does not diminish the respect she shows you. Most of your pupils feel this same sense of special friendship (mothers do compare notes, you know). An incident in point: Our daughter told us that one day during art class, she was sitting staring at her blank paper and you asked her why she hadn’t started to work. She replied, “I’m too busy thinking about a poem I am writing in my mind.” You had the insight to say: “I’m sorry to have interrupted you. You can make the picture when you have finished your poem.” And you had the kindness to value the poem.
Your light touch with learning has enlivened our dinner conversation. “Even when Mrs. G gets angry, she gets angry in a funny way,” Susie reported to us one day. “She told Jimmy she’d give him 20 lashes with a wet noodle if he missed the next problem.”
An older child in our family put it this way: “A good teacher is one you can talk over your problems with, without fear you are going to be made a fool of. Even though you are awfully young in his eyes, a good teacher understands that you’re trying to grow up. You can tell whether a teacher likes kids. A good teacher lets you explore ideas. And he creates an atmosphere where a guy doesn’t even want to goof off, because he’s too busy thinking.” All parents expect too much of their child’s teacher. Thank you for living up to our expectations.
The Type of Teacher I Want to Be
I feel a teacher should create a positive learning atmosphere where students want to be and want to learn. He/she should be kind, knowledgeable, respectful and engaging.
When a student has respect from a kind, engaging teacher he/she will typically give you 100%. A classroom needs to be a positive place with structure. In this type of atmosphere a student feels safe, knows the boundaries and what is expected behaviorally as well as academically.
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Here are a few quotes from our network of teachers regarding the most effective teachers they know and what makes them so effective:
She sets high expectations, is consistent with them, and helps students achieve them.
-Junior High Teacher, IA
She is organized and dedicated to her students. She always brings in fresh ideas!
-Adult Education ESL Teacher, GA
Clarity about expectations, objectives, and goals; genuine commitment to helping students meet and achieve them; concern about the individual as a learner and as a person.
-Elementary Teacher, PA
Consistency. She is the same every day. Always has a bright smile. She's always positive. She has very high expectations. She is willing to go that extra mile -- stay after school with kids giving one on one help. Always making contact with parents. Always talking with others and comparing notes. She never takes NO or I don't know as an answer.
-High School Teacher, TX
Every moment is a teachable moment. She brings humor to the classroom. Her love of children is evident!!
-SLD Teacher, FL
Interaction with students and friendly attitude. Seems to like all students and is willing to work for their success.
-Adult Education Teacher, NM
Great relationship with his students and he gives student accountability to themselves. Student know what is right and wrong, but when confronted they argue and justify. This teachers helps each student feel important, then at the end of the day, they grade themselves as a class on their performance.
-High School Teacher, UT
The most effective teacher in my building is creative, has a fun attitude, high energy...kids love her!
-Elementary SPED Teacher, OK
He takes an interest in the things that interest his students, their lives, their hobbies, their needs and their worries. His approach is personal rather than subject based. Students learn through his example. They find him dependable and self-less with his time for them.
-ESL Foundation Teacher, Australia
Boundless energy, top-notch organization, genuine concern for students that shines through everything she does.
-SPED Teacher, IL