What Makes a Teacher Special?
About ten to twelve years ago, when I was a middle school principal, I had an idea that we tried out one spring to highlight the great work that teachers do on a daily basis… I established a program titled “Teacher of the Week.”
The program itself was pretty simple. Any person: student, parent, teacher, secretary, custodian…anyone, could nominate any teacher (as many times as they’d like) by completing a short form that required only three things: (1) The teacher’s name, (2) the reason that teacher was nominated, and (3) the name of the person making the nomination.
At the end of each week, all of the positive feedback was typed (by me) and posted outside the main office in the hallway for all to see. Over time, almost every teacher in the school received at least one nomination. Some teachers, of course, had nomination forms come in on an almost daily basis. It must also be added that in the entire time, not one person submitted a form about a teacher that was negative in any way. Every submitted comment about every teacher was positive.
The program didn’t last into the next school year, I don’t quite remember why, but while it lasted, the “Teacher of the Week” program allowed all members of the school community to share the very best aspects of individual teachers for all to see.
Last week, I was cleaning my current office. One of my favorite summer tasks is taking the time to reorganize myself as I prepare for the upcoming school year. It’s been a somewhat quiet summer so I had a few hours to spend on organizing my paperwork and in going through old files. As I did this, I came upon the old nomination forms from the “Teacher of the Week” program from all those years ago. I had saved them as a memory of what good teaching looks like to middle school kids.
As I read over the positive comments, and reflected on the program. I realized that I possess a unique collection of artifacts. This collection of forms spoke (and I would state still speaks) to what children admire most in their teachers. These forms don’t highlight what researchers claim quality teaching looks like, rather, these contain the unfiltered words of students – words that came straight from their own hearts and minds.
It’s not often that one has an unfiltered view into the minds of children – especially middle school kids. What follows (as the first in a series of columns dedicated to this topic) are a collection of comments from children about their teachers. I have changed the teacher’s names for privacy reasons and have never included a child’s name. (It is amazing to think that today these children are in their mid-to-late 20’s.) (Where does the time go?)
I believe that we can learn a great deal by listening to the feedback from children. Children are our “clients.” Adults can always learn a great deal by listening to the children in their lives. We don’t listen to children enough. Students might be the most untapped and most valuable resource in every school.
This exercise reminds me that we all must listen to children, and consider what they say about our teaching, our affect, our classrooms, and our schools. We should listen to children as often as we can.
I have copied each form word-for-word and kept spelling and other grammar mistakes. These are transcribed exactly how each student wrote the form, except where I added words (in parenthesis) for clarity. I also deleted identifying characteristics such as grade levels, subjects taught, and extra-curricular activities when transcribing the comments.
For this installment, I did not include any repeat nominations for any teacher. Each of these comments was for a different staff member. I also did not list the nominations from ever staff member.
This installment serves as a preliminary overview of comments about individual teachers from the students of a school in the early 21st century.
I think there is a lot to learn here.
SAMPLE FORM OUTLINE:
Name of Teacher:
I am nominating this teacher because:
Nomination Made By:
“I am nominating Mrs. Violet because she is always willing to help and teach things in private to one kid. And because she is so fun and caring when you don’t feel good.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Audi because all her work and she is very, very, very…(the child wrote “very” 14 times) nice.”
“We are nominating Mr. Alda because he is really easy to relate to and really easy to talk to. We love him and hes the most amazing gym teacher ever.”
“I am nominating Mr. McDougall because he is always helping and encouraging me even though he’s not my teacher.”
“I am nominating Mr. Stokes because he is a great homebase teacher, someone who understands you and he has fun while being serious.”
“I am nominating Ms. Keating because (she) is a good teacher. (She) helps me when I need help. She’s a good friend. I love her. (She) helps me when I need advice.”
“I am nominating Mr. Norton because he was really nice during (an extra-curricular activity).”
“I am nominating Mr. Caldwell because he has helped me improve on my talents.”
“I am nominating Ms. Brown because she makes class alot of fun and is good at explaining things to us.”
“I am nominating Mr. Balboa because he is nice and cool.”
“I am nominating Mrs. LaValliere for being a great teacher.”
“I am nominating Mr. Tytell because even though I don’t always do well in his class, I know he still believes in me and know if I work to my potential I can do anything.”
“I am nominating Mr. Brook because he shows me much respect.”
“I am nominating Mr. Rizzuto because he helped us sound out a word and looked it up for us.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Harrington because she is a good teachers and also her birthday was this week.”
“I am nominating Mr. Kostya because I love her. (She) makes me laugh.”
“I am nominating Mr. Konijn because he has always been there for me.”
“I am nominating Mrs. Remnick because she listens to me. I can say anything to her.”
(And finally, for this installment)…
“I am nominating Ms. Pencroft because she’s great, very kind, and always cheers me up!”
Although this series is just getting started, I believe there is a great deal for all educators to learn just by reading and carefully considering the messages shared by the students above.
We must ask ourselves, “What is it that really makes a teacher special?”
For the answer, we should ask a child.
The child will know.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.