“When I was an undergraduate, I once confided to a favorite professor that I was interested in becoming a teacher. He immediately responded, ‘And if you lose your passion for it, make a change. Promise?’ I promised” (Granrose, 2001).
In perusing Extraordinary Teachers, the book in which the above quotes appears, I was struck by a list identifying characteristics of extraordinary teachers, and, in particular, by the number of references to “passion” as a must-have for effective teaching. The term conjures up many meanings to us, but as it applies to successful teachers, I prefer the simple definition “boundless enthusiasm.”
At our schools, we have many extraordinary teachers. Ironically, one of the extraordinary 5th grade teachers I am thinking of has almost nothing in common with one of the extraordinary math teachers who comes to mind--except for their boundless enthusiasm. Their enthusiasm truly knows no bounds. They will do whatever it takes to help a student, hone their own professional skills, or assist a colleague. While some of our greatest teachers may be more creative than others or more adept at assessment techniques, all of them excel at possessing and exhibiting enthusiasm--both for their subject matter and for their students.
In the introductory chapter, the author indicates that through research, he has identified many different traits that distinguish excellent teachers, all of which tend to fall within these six areas (including my personal favorite within #1, “Passion”):
1. Extraordinary teachers have a great passion for their work. Preeminent teachers are passionate about their subject matter, their students, learning, and teaching. They feel responsible, even obligated, to help all students. They want to share the thrill of discovery with their students. They wear the title of “teacher” with pride; finding their work exciting and meaningful is the chief driving force that motivates them to succeed.
2. Extraordinary teachers know what to teach, how to teach, and how to improve. Exemplary teachers see the primary task as preparing their students for life. An ultimate goal is to produce honorable and productive members of society. They have a craftsman’s ability to choose the best tools for each particular task. They use their research knowledge as a powerful source of energy for both teaching and student learning. Top teachers will look anywhere and everywhere for help. They have the courage to accept risks and defy conventional wisdom.
3. Extraordinary teachers excel at creating exciting classroom environments. Exceptional teachers capture student interest with boundless energy and enthusiasm. Outstanding teachers grasp the importance of the first classroom meeting. They realize that by the time day one is over, most students will have already formed opinions about a teacher’s interest in teaching them, whether the teacher wants to be there, if the instructor has passion for his or her subject matter, and whether the teacher likes students. As a result, extraordinary teachers seize the opportunity to set a positive tone for the entire course during the first class session. Successful teachers are cheerful individuals; their classroom is their stage and they relish the opportunity to perform for their students--not necessarily for laughs or popularity, but to excite a student response toward learning.
4. Extraordinary teachers connect exceptionally well with students. Highly effective teachers have an uncanny ability to connect with students. They get students to trust them, to be more receptive to their advice, and to believe in what they are trying to accomplish. Their goal is to create a bond, an educational partnership, with their students. They know that understanding, acceptance, compassion, and fairness carry much weight with children. They comprehend the importance of a teacher’s character and credibility and try to be good role models.
5. Extraordinary teachers challenge students to reach their full potential. Outstanding teachers are demanding instructors who teach rigorous courses. Students are worked hard and help responsible for finishing assignments on time and for delivering quality performances. Such teachers have high standards, which are not compromised. Their motto seems to be “I welcome any and all to my classes, but don’t sign up unless your are serious about learning.” Despite the widespread knowledge among students of the academic rigors that lie ahead, students flock to get into extraordinary teachers’ classes.
6. Extraordinary teachers get extraordinary results. The ultimate characteristic of acclaimed teachers is that they get results that far exceed the teaching norm. These teachers receive accolades from students, colleagues, and parents. Their students perform well, year in and year out, despite the fluctuations in student ability levels. They teach students many more things, they reach a greater number of students, they change the way students approach and value education. They influence attitudes and behaviors. They open minds and hearts and help students find direction, meaning, and satisfaction in their lives.
Teaching is a demanding, yet rewarding job. Without a sincere passion for all that the job entails, we are unlikely to succeed. Sincere thanks to all the teachers out there who strive each day to demonstrate what preeminent, exemplary, exceptional, highly effective, outstanding, and acclaimed teachers do--in essence, exhibiting passion for the students we teach as well as the things we want them to know and be able to do.
As I have mentioned previously, O’Connor devotes a chapter each to 15 “broken” grading practices, offering a “fix” for each problem. This week, we look at the sixth problem, along with his fix:
Grades are broken when evidence of learning from multiple sources is blended into a single grade and the communication fails to show how successful students have been in mastering individual standards/learning goals. The fix is to base grades on specific standards and to report them for each standard. We must collect information/evidence about student achievement toward specific standards and be able to discuss and/or report this with students and parents.