This is the fifth and final essay in this series. The first four, Release Your Personality, Tap Their Spirits, Engage Their Minds, and Navigate Their Limits have been posted previously and can still be viewed on this blog. Collectively, these five essays in A Teacher’s Compass were born of my attempt to conceptualize in plain language the essential elements of exceptional teaching. They comprise my credo of teaching, my best advice to the novice and veteran teacher alike. (Each element is discussed more fully in a book I am writing; these essays here are short summaries of the elements.) As always, I encourage replies.
#5 Prove You Care. This is really different than saying you care. Whoever said They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care was right on target. When students believe that you really care about them as people and as learners, they are more willing to try, more likely to care themselves. The lower achieving the students are, the more this principle rings true. The research is abundant and clear: low-achieving students respond positively to strong interpersonal relationships. So, when threatening them with grades isn’t working, think about building relationships with them and proving that you care.
There are lots of ways to prove you care. Here are a few:
• Teach them as if they were your own children
• Help them when they struggle
• Encourage them at every opportunity with constant sincere praise
• Acknowledge their individual outside interests
• Ask them what they think about important things
• Be patient
• Teach them about integrity – be true to your word
• Give them choice in things that don’t really matter to you
• Offer them help when others won’t be around to ridicule them
• Respect them even when they don’t respect themselves
• Care about them even when they don’t care about themselves
• Believe in them even when they don’t believe in themselves
• Listen to their story
• Ask them about their families, or boyfriends, or things that weigh heavy on their minds
• Notice their new shoes, or earrings, or jacket or hairdo. Say something.
• Tell them they are important and that they matter
• Go to their dances and plays and sporting events
• Publicly acknowledge their good work, or even their attempt at good work
But beware: Students can spot insincerity and hypocrisy a mile away. If you don’t really care, they’ll know. If you do really care, find a way to show them. And always remember: They may have no other adult in their lives who shows they care. You may be all they have. They need you. They want you in their lives. And, once they believe you are on their side and rooting for them, they may do anything for you. They may try really hard for you. Prove You Care.
(These five elements have made all the difference for me as a teacher and, I believe, for the thousands of young people who have been my students throughout the two and a half decades of my career. I hope they have sparked inspiration and reflection in those who have read them. I hope they have refocused our perspectives of why we became teachers in the first place. After all, that decision most certainly had nothing to do with state exams or any of the other trappings that only tangentially have to do with teaching and learning. )
Release Your Personality
Tap Their Spirits
Engage Their Minds
Navigate Their Limits
Prove You Care