Starting the new school year for a teacher is like New Year’s Eve. It’s a time to reflect on the past year and create meaningful, attainable goals for the upcoming 180 days. Usually each year I can quickly determine my goals for the year, setting the mark for my success as a classroom teacher. But after receiving my National Board Teaching Certification last year, I knew that achievement can’t define me as successful every year. Yes, it took a year of sweat, blood, and tears, but I still need to improve as a teacher! I know it’s out there…… but what? What should define me as successful this year?
I decided to go to the experts and ask their opinions. I asked several students throughout my school campus, “What makes a teacher successful?” (For those who gave me a blank stare, I did rephrase, “What makes a teacher really great?”) Here are their responses, check them out! The students come from first, second, third, and fifth grades, and they represent various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.
- Brooklynn: "Hmmm….. really nice. And really, really funny."
- Isabelle: "They teach us a lot of things. Help us learn things like 200+200."
- Destiny: "A successful teacher makes sure the student is correct."
- Emma: "Ummm…. because they sort of make kids happy. They make them happy by being nice and doing fun things with them."
- Kaley: "Bringing stuff in for us and feeding us and stuff like that."
- Denise: "Not too mean and not too nice. They're a little rough on you."
- Nathan: "The teachers tell us how to learn so we can do the stuff right. Like teaching us how to do our homework."
- Elijah: "Help people learn stuff!"
After conducting the interviews, which are quite authentic, without me prompting for specific answers, I sat down and listened to the responses. First I laughed, then I moaned, and finally I got kind of irritated. Yes, the answers were cute and funny, but I was feeling frustrated that they didn’t seem to have an idea what a successful teacher was. Then I sat back and remembered why I was interviewing them—I am confused as to what defines a successful teacher! I still needed some clarification on the definition of success.
It was time to go back to the drawing board!! I decided to wander around the school building and interview a few teachers. After some great conversations with my peers, I
have two responses to share. The first teacher to respond is a Rodel teacher who has over 20 years of teaching experience. She stated, "I think what makes a teacher successful is when her students will walk across the classroom barefoot for her. Teachers should have students have respect for them, and they should do anything to please their teacher." A second-year teacher shared, "A teacher is successful when a student is successful with something we have been trying to overcome, maybe a milestone."
I was encouraged by their responses, but I needed to hear from more experts on success, not just teachers and students. I need validation from the very important people in my life- the ones who impact me as a teacher. I asked, “How would you define a successful teacher?” Here are some of the responses:
“You try your hardest every day to give your kids what is best for them…and you wear a smile despite all the things that may happen throughout the day….we are all works in progress helping other little works in progress be the best they can be, and LEARN….so, that to me is successful…and especially reflecting back on your day and thinking…"yep, I think I made a difference today." – 2nd grade teacher
“I think it a HUGE talent to make sure you adjust to the needs of a child, or concern from a parent. Being intuitive enough to recognize those needs is a big deal to me. I think its important to see if the child is excelling &/or liking the surroundings & if not figuring out a way to change that. Listening to parents feedback and applying it also.. Lots of teachers will "listen" but not change…Staying new fresh with fun ideas and learning tactics, makes for an impressive teacher.” –Working Mom from Montana
“Someone that connects in ways that no assessment can measure.” – High School Teacher
“What I always say…"Be sure to do what you should, for then you will enjoy the personal satisfaction of having done your work well, and you won't need to compare yourself to anyone else." That's my signature in my email… I don't have my degree in teaching but, I teach, instruct and even coach… I live by this and I know each day I love what I do… That is success!!!” –Parent Volunteer
“One who can connect with even the most challenging child, without a child's trust and respect, learning will not take place. A successful teacher is consistent, fair, and compassionate. A successful teacher makes a child believe they can do anything if they work hard. If you walk into a successful teacher's room, it appears that the children are learning on their own, independent of the teacher, cooperation and smiles are evident!” – National Board Certified Teacher
“Respected and loved by her students. She is rewarded by their success in learning.” — Mom
After reflecting on the oral and written responses about the defining attributes of a successful teacher, I heard some common themes:
- Create relationships with students, based on the cornerstone of trust and respect.
- Inspire lifelong learners who stretch themselves to initiate independent learning!
- Have fun and laugh—create meaningful memories.
- Know and honor each child’s different strengths and areas to grow through differentiation and equity of lessons and materials.
- Build success in the classroom- students create goals and attain them!
These will be my goals to attain as a successful teacher this year. How about you?