Sunday, April 14, 2013

What's Your Definition of a Fair Teacher?: Out of the Mouths of Babes

Psst...come close...a little closer...O.K. now, listen carefully.  Do you want to know the best way to start meeting the needs of all learners? Really, it takes one very simple, very direct question to pose to students and you will have your answer.

I started asking this question at the start of the school year a couple of years ago.  However, with my very first class, my very first set of students, the question first began as an open ended statement, "Describe your favorite teacher." (Yes, at this point you may go ahead and insert unattainable descriptions offered by students. Some days I crack myself up!)  No worries, within the 5 minute passing period, I rallied quickly and changed this open ended statement.  By the next hour it was a direct question so to evoke more insight from students, "What's your definition of a fair teacher?" And boy howdy, did I hit the jack pot!

Now, I teach high school, but I'm certain this will work with most grade levels.  I am fairly certain that this one question, posed at the front of a school year will do more for student teacher relationships than any name game can do.

So by now you may be wondering, what does a teacher do with these student answers?  You see, it is not simply the posing of the question, but what you do with the answers.  In short, you must make the answers matter by:

  1. Reading EVERY response.
  2. Highlighting all verbs within the responses and highlighting all adjectives with another color.
  3. Create a list of the verbs and a separate list of the adjectives in a word document
  4. Now, copy/paste those words to create 2 Wordle clouds (one for verbs; one for adjectives)
  5. Print the 2 Wordles in color on 2 separate sheets of paper and post near your desk.
The next day of class, project the 2 Wordle clouds for students to read as they enter class.
  1. Share with students that these words represent what THEY want in a fair teacher.
  2. Read EVERY word aloud.
  3. Express to students that it is YOUR goal to represent THEIR definition of a fair teacher.  To emphasize how important this is to you, show them where you posted these 2 Wordles near your desk.  Tell them (and mean it!) that these words will serve as a reminder to you of what they need from you.
  4. Furthermore, let them know that if they feel you are not living up to any of these words at any time, then they can KINDLY point to these words as a reminder to you.
  5. BUT WAIT, there is a caveat...tell students that it is only fair that if you are held to these expectations, then are they.
With this in place, students will now know what to expect of the teacher and the students now will know what the teacher will expect of them.  The beauty of this process is that there is no set of double standards, both teacher and students are held to the same set of expectations; both own the same definition of fair.  Thus respect emerges and creates a solid foundation for student teacher relationships to build upon.

So what is the definition of a fair teacher? Well, out of the mouths of babes, no one can say it are just a few descriptors of what students want from teachers....

I am my own worst critic.  By posting these words next to my desk, I am reminded daily if I am meeting the needs of my students.  Not all days are rock star days. But even on my off days, these posted words propel me into action to start fresh again the next day.