If you teach, you probably want to be known as being that “amazing teacher” on campus or in your district. It is an admirable desire for teachers to have. I mean, what could possibly be wrong with wanting to be that teacher who kids remember for a lifetime? So, what does it take to be that teacher?
The answer is, in my humble opinion, complicated. The first stumbling block comes when we must assign a definition to the following word:
Amazing- causing great surprise or sudden wonder.
That is how www.dictionary.com defines it. Now, look at it. Great surprise. Sudden wonder. To be honest, neither of those are terms that I want associated with my teaching.
Teachers go to many lengths to have students consider them to be amazing teachers. Some are great, others, not so great. Let’s pick a few of the possibilities apart.
Assignments/Workload: This is one of the first ones kids catch right away. The teacher who gives the easiest, or least amount of work, is often considered to be the great teacher. At least, that is the case when they are new in that class, at a young age, where the future is blurry. Others seek to constantly challenge students. They seek to push them to new limits, make them create, think outside of the proverbial box, and wonder. The ‘easy’ teacher is, by definition, Amazing. A sudden wonder in the eyes of new students. The teacher who keeps students engaged, actively learning, and challenged, is much more than an amazing teacher. They are an effective one.
Class time: Ever see one of those classes where you can never tell what is happening in there? Kids are constantly wandering the room, playing on phones, and pretty much doing whatever they like? Students often love this kind of class at the beginning of a school year. They show up and find out that they can play, their thought is, “Amazing!” Then, you have students who are in classes where time is efficiently utilized. Kids are busy, working, moving, discussing, debating, creating, and more. Kids initially think this is a hard class, with no breaks. As the year goes on, the realization starts to set in. They are learning, and learning a lot. They no longer want the play time. You have engaged them to a point where working and being challenged is the expected norm. It is their desire. Again, the second teacher is not amazing… they are great.
Expectations: Kids will be kids. We know this, we accept this. (most of us do, at least) There are times where students will ask what the bare minimum is that is required. They work the situation until they are performing at a level far below their capabilities. The amazing teacher knows that his/her kids need to love them, so they reduce the assignment. The kids have learned a valuable thing. They have learned that expectations are downwardly negotiable. Students are in school to learn. No matter what it is they are learning, it is our job, as educators, to do our best to ensure they are learning it well. We know what the expectation for mastery of a concept/standard is. Why would we arbitrarily decide to reduce that standard to an inferior level? Instead, be the teacher who kids are constantly wanting to exceed your expectations. How do you do that? You challenge them. You don’t reduce expectations. Instead, you bend over backwards to help kids not only meet the expectation, but to exceed it.
Often, teachers do ‘fluff’ work. This is work that realistically offers no academic purpose. It is intended to fill time, make kids happy with an easy grade, and give the teacher another break. Kids love this, at least initially. What kids begin to realize as state testing approaches, is that they are terribly underprepared. The kids know it, and they talk about it. Eventually, the resent it. What started out as a respectable attempt to be amazing, turned out to be just that. They were in fact amazing, according to the definition above.
As this year winds down and we plan, recharge, and explore, take the time to reflect upon whether your goal is actually producing the result you really want. Personally, I would find it much higher praise for kids to remember how much they learned in my class years later, rather than think my class is easy now. Education is a long term investment, make sure you are in it for the long term, and aim to be something other than AMAZING.