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Pride of Profession: Striving to Become a Great Teacher

| Ben Johnson

This is the second post in a two-part entry. Read part one.

In the first part of this entry, I discussed greatness in educators. One of the nice things about my current position is that I can go into the classroom and see this greatness all around:

  • I saw a teacher treating her students like little adults, and those first graders responded accordingly by doing fourth-grade work and mastering parts of speech as if they were in high school.
  • I witnessed a brand-new teacher vividly and effectively demonstrate the three states of matter by having the students be molecules and act out what the molecules are doing in the different states. Because of this, the second graders easily used the scientific method to establish the three states of matter in a hands-on experiment.
  • I saw self-assured and responsible eighth-grade students catching the vision of how school can be a stepping-stone for college and careers in an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) class. They learned the unspoken curriculum of how to overcome fear and doubt and how to effectively work with their teachers. Everything about this class empowered them to actually believe that through individual determination, they truly can advance.

(A regular, everyday English teacher, Mary Catherine Swanson, started AVID because she wanted to help her students be truly successful and find and believe in their greatness. In doing so, she demonstrated her own greatness. If you want to learn more about it, read Wall of Fame, by celebrated journalist Jonathan Freedman.)

In those wonderful visits to your world, I saw many other elements of greatness in both the students and the teachers. We should all believe that we have the best students in the world and that they are certainly capable of being great. It is their right and our responsibility to help them achieve it.

That brings me to the point of my post: How can we expect the students to aspire to be great if we are not doing the same? We all have a certain amount of greatness that we demonstrate frequently, but the biggest enemy of success (greatness) is an attitude of "That's good enough." In that spirit, I would like to inspire all of us to do some self-reflection.

I appreciate all that you do and especially the fact that you take the time to read my ramblings. If you can spare the time, I would like you to answer the following questions, at least to yourself. But I welcome you to share your responses with me in the comment section below so I can compile the answers and give a report next month. If you would like to respond but do not want your responses included in the report, just let me know.

Consider these questions:

  • If I think of myself as at least a good teacher, what would I do differently in order to be a great teacher?
  • What student outcomes do great teachers achieve that I don't achieve?
  • What qualities does a great teacher possess?
  • What sacrifices would I have to make to become a great teacher? What am I willing to give up to become great?
  • What does a great teacher's classroom look like?
  • What kind of relationships do great teachers strive to create with fellow teachers and administrators?
  • What will be my first step toward greatness?

These are great questions for you to discuss with a teacher aide or a partner teacher, or in your professional-learning communities and at grade-level meetings. Another book that has inspired these ramblings is Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don't, by Jim Collins. It is on my list of books to read soon.

Please respond to the questions I have posed above, and share your thoughts.

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Comments (37)

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Greatness

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I have many steps to take to achieve “greatness” as an educator. I have only been a teacher for a year now and lack knowledge and experience that are essential in becoming an expert teacher. In order to educate my students in an efficient manner I am committed to becoming a life long learner. Recently I have become a graduate student at Walden University. My desire and passion for learning will not cease once I have obtained my masters. In a world that is always evolving in technology, strategies, and techniques it is critical for me to maintain new knowledge consistently.

To achieve “greatness” I need to become an increased a risk-taker, collaborate more outside my of my school district, gain new experiences, and reflect every day. There are steps I am currently taking that have shown a positive impact on student learning. One step is I challenge my students to excel to their fullest potential and then push a little farther. The phrases “I can’t do this” or “it’s to hard” have been eliminated from my classroom. I also instill in my students that in order to learn we must make mistakes. I have made them aware that I do not know all the answers and encourage them to point out any mistakes I make. My experience thus far is that students want to please and are afraid of failing. Creating a learning environment that supports the process of learning through errors allows my students to participate more often and freely.

Thank you for part 1 and 2 of your post, your words are insightful and inspiring.

Ben Johnson (author) (not verified)

Not about the students- it is about the teacher

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RC:

I am glad you are continuing your education and living the "lifetime" learner attitude. Settling for "good enough" is a problem in any field, but it seems that education has more than it's fair share. You hit on a key part of being a "great teacher". That is "leading". You said by example, but we should lead also by many other things. An educational leader will not be satisfied with good enough instruction, nor will he or she be willing to accept any mediocrity from students. A true educational leader will turn his or her classroom into a high performance learning team and will inspire his or her students to higher heights than they ever dream possible. This kind of teacher asks 'why' and asks 'why not?' This kind of teacher believes that as a teacher, he or she is the key to unlocking the future of the students, regardless of what their backgrounds are. To this teacher it doesn't matter that the students are unprepared for learning in many ways. This teacher accommodates his or her teaching to overcome any obstacle that a student may bring to school, but does not dwell on "oh you poor thing" syndrome. This teacher understands that successful learning is just as important as food, air and water to these students and that knowledge can overcome the negative effects of all these other needs in more significant and enduring ways than that of being a surrogate parent. Well... I just thought I would share my ideas with you. By the way, you gave me some ideas to share in my next blog. Thanks.

Best regards,

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

RC (not verified)

What it takes

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I am a graduate student at Walden University. In our recent assigned reading, the author talked about the novice teacher compared to the expert teacher. It stated that very few teachers will become expert teachers (Garmston, 1998). I think that is partly due to the fact that teachers often settle for being good enough. It is a message that students are being sent as well. As teachers, we need to strive to be the best at our job and accept nothing less than the best from our students. How can we expect students to have a love for learning if we are not lifelong learners? We are leading by the example we set.

I agree with many of the responses that are posted. To go from being a good teacher to a great teacher I must be a lifelong learner. I must be able to share and collaborate with my colleagues and be a leader in my school. I must have deep content knowledge and be able to reach students at all levels. I need to get to know each student to gain an understanding of how each learns. It takes much effort and determination to go from good to great. I think we must set our minds on greatness and not accept less. Settling doesn't enable us to take our students to the next level.

Garmston, Robert (1998). Becoming expert teachers. Journal of staff development, 19(1).

Ben Johnson (author) (not verified)

Have fun

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Yolanda:

You said the most important element of being a great teacher! Have fun! Teaching can be a blast, especially if you are not afraid to be yourself, and engage the students on their level. Caution-- don't try to be a student, or a friend--you should always still be the teacher. But building that relationship means that you will have a better chance of pushing students to achieve their maximum potential because they trust you and do not want to disappoint you. I sincerely believe also that it is a privilege to associate with young people.

Keep up the good work!

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, TX

Ben Johnson (author) (not verified)

Characteristics of a Great Teacher

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Karen:

My first thought is that it takes one to know one. I fully expect that you have most if not all of these qualities yourself. Thank you for putting the last part in. Many times teachers describe the characteristics, but never the main point of being a great teacher--that is, to inspire great learning in student! It follows that if the student did not learn, then no teaching occurred, either from the teacher or the student. Your perspective that the student is the one doing most of the teaching and learning is right on target. Talking a student to death is not teaching, and way too much of that happens in schools. We can tell a student what they need to know until we are blue in the face, and for the most part, they will never "know" it, until they try to do it themselves.

Thanks for your insightful comments.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, TX

Karen G (not verified)

Great Teachers

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Great Teachers are sensitive to students needs, likes, and dislikes. They are firm, organized, and dedicated to their school, students, and parents. They understand how strongly children feel about peer relationships. Great teachers are spontaneous at times and are able to adapt to unforseen events. They are very knowledgable about the content they are expected to teach. They know how to motivate students in several different ways. They quickly learn their students strengths and weaknesses. Great teachers are consistent everyday in the classroom. Great teachers expect their students to create and reach personal goals as they model this skill.

Yolanda (not verified)

I agree that great teachers

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I agree that great teachers need to be life-long learners. Technology and the way of teaching is an ongoing process and teachers need to keep up with the latest research. Building relationships is a topic that may bring strange answers and those answers may not always be found in the classroom. Erwin (2003) states, "by building relationships based on what is internally motivating, students will be more likely to succeed." Last year, with a certain group of students I felt I could never really reach, I built a relationship with one in a rock wall racing competition on our field day. Another group of students loved to dunk me in the Dunk Tank on field day and others I enjoyed dancing the Cupid Shuffle or the Electric Slide with at our school dance. Also, playing board games with a group of students on a two hour, field trip, ride home was a laugh-out-loud experience. All in all, I love the privilege of meeting so many wonderful kids with personalities and differences.

Yolanda Bushong
White Knoll Middle School
8th Grade Math
Lexington, SC

Sarah (not verified)

Great teachers need to be

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Great teachers need to be life-long learners first and foremost. If the way our students are learning is constantly changing, then we need to be able to adapt as well. Relationship building is also a key to success. When students think the teacher cares, he/she will follow them anywhere, even if the subject matter isn't very interesting. Lastly, teachers who engage their students in learning and make learning relevent to the lives of their students are on their way to greatness. This takes time and effort, but learning about your students is the first step.

Lutz Mae (not verified)

Greatness

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As a young novice teacher, my main focus was to learn all the things a new teachers need to learn, from school policies, classroom management to parent conferences. It was a tough time trying to learn all those while preparing my lessons for 50 pupils in a class (WHEW!). At that time, break for me meant going to the cafeteria on lunch breaks in order to get to chat more with my pupils. Those short 30 minutes each day allowed me to "join" their young world. I learned more about their worries, concerns, problems at home and shared so much laughter too. These opportunities made me connect with my pupils and made my lessons more interesting for them. These children were only second graders back then.

Now, after 8 years, and with the help of Facebook and Friendster, I was able to communicate with my former pupils as well. They send me wonderful and heart-warming messages telling me that I've made a positive difference in their lives. Their openness and warmth especially as teenagers now, inspire and humble me to continue my journey of becoming a great teacher.

carol (not verified)

Expert Teachers

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Hi, Yes I agree novice teachers are teachers just learning the rules, procedures, routines, the curriculum and classroom management. They don't have time at first to become experts. I believe expert teachers are always looking for new and interesting ways to keep students interested in what they are learning. In a book I am reading, "On Being a Teacher" I read that there is a difference between schooling and learning. Schooling requires students to pay close attention, listen, follow rules, and take responsibilty for actions. Where as learning comes from within ones self. This does not require outside motivation. It is done for yourself. It's what expert teachers do. They are always looking for more knowledge because they want to, not to please the teacher.

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