Category Archives: Guest Post
I’m very honoured to have another brilliant guest post from a current school student on the topic ‘what makes a good teacher?
A good primary school teacher doesn’t have to be a genius. They don’t have to let you get away with anything (but that’s always a bonus). But if you are lucky enough to spend some time with a good teacher, you have discovered a treasure.
There are three simple things that a teacher should be. The first is laughter. Walking past a classroom of students and hearing laughter is rarer than hens teeth. Peek in the window and you will see twenty, thirty children and a teacher with grins on their faces, and laughter bubbling out of their mouths. Children will say to their parents at home that night “Guess what Mrs F said today”, and “I’m so glad I’m in her class”.
The second is imagination. One amazing teacher I had was teaching the class about information reports. ‘An information report is like a meat pie. The introduction and the conclusion are like the pastry at the top and the bottom, and the meat is like the information in the middle.’ ‘Mrs F’, pipped up one of the children, ‘why don’t you bring in some meat pies for us to eat. It would help us with our learning’ they said with a cheeky grin. ‘Alright,’ Mrs F replied. And she did. The next day, she brought in a big pack of meat pies, and she heated them up during our English lesson, and gave them to us. Brilliant teacher.
The third is respect. If you respect the children you are teaching, they will in turn respect you. If you talk down to them, they will glare. No need to spoon-feed them, let them work it out for themselves, if they look like idiots, so be it. A good teacher will respect their students enough to trust them, and if they betray that trust, then it is their fault, not the teacher’s.
Three simple things you will find in a good teacher. They are so easy, yet so hard to discover. These three qualities come easier if you are born with them, but don’t give up hope if you are not. The same qualities are found in a good principal, and a good high school or university teacher. If you can make a student laugh, if you have imagination, and if you respect a student, every student you teach will remember you forever as the best teacher they ever had.
Many thanks to the author of the wonderful blog Autism and Oughtisms for agreeing to write this spectacular post. Although the post is intended for student teachers it has lessons for everyone within the education system.
I’m going to start this post by telling you to read something else, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the symptoms of autism, and with how to adjust a classroom environment to suit the child’s challenges. It is a brief and useful introduction, well suited to teachers.
My own post is a more personal account of what I would like teachers to be aware of when they find out they will be having an autistic child in their classroom. I draw on personal experience, research, and conversations with other mothers of autistic children, particularly within the New Zealand context.
Parents are a child’s first teacher. When it comes time to hand their five year-old over to a school teacher for the first time, those parents become understandably nervous. That “parent as first teacher” role, and that nervousness of handing your child over, is intensified so much for the parent of an autistic child that many initially consider home-schooling as the only realistic option.
Before an autistic child even enters a classroom, the parent would have gone through an extensive (and often exhausting) process of deciding what classroom setting will best suit their child’s abilities and disabilities. They may have visited a special needs school, a mainstream school, and done their homework into home schooling. By the time that child begins their first class, you can be sure that the parent has not made the decision lightly, and will be evaluating their child’s progress and response to the school situation, from the very first hour.
I can see how that might be intimidating.
When we visited a mainstream school when trying to choose the right setting for our son, I got the strong impressions from both the administrative staff and the prospective teacher that my son – and his challenges – were not welcome. The admin staff were reluctant to meet my eye, asked awkward questions about whether they’d have to change long-standing school policy to suit his needs, and generally hid behind their laptops (typing instead of talking). In the new-entrant class, the teacher looked bored and distracted as she taught the class, and appeared unwilling to make time to talk to us even though that was a central purpose of the visit. We left the classroom early; unimpressed with what we’d seen, and hopeful that the special needs school visit would go better.
My son’s autism affects him in major ways, but he was considered “borderline” when it came to his education options: His team of therapists said he could fit into either a mainstream or special needs setting; the choice was up to us. We were lucky to have that choice; many autistic children simply do not qualify for the government funding required for entry to a special needs school. They are then forced upon schools which are often under-prepared and under-resourced to cope with the child. Some parents who have the choice, still decide on a mainstream school, because of a belief in the benefits of an inclusive education, and worries that a special needs education wouldn’t challenge their child academically or could worsen their child’s condition.
So what do us parents need to see, and need teachers to know, when we come knocking at prospective classroom doors?
First and foremost, there needs to be a willingness by the teacher to learn: A willingness to learn about the symptoms of autism, how autism affects the child’s learning, and a willingness to take on the challenge of an autistic child. The teacher also needs to be open to the fact that they don’t have all the answers in advance, and be willing to say so; such honest communication is a good beginning point. If the teacher really thinks they do have all the answers, and wishes to convey that confidence, it is essential that they show they understand that their knowledge must be tailored to the child; this shows the parent that the teacher understands each autistic child is unique, and that they’re aware of what the parent can bring to the table in terms of understanding how best to help the child.
The transition of an autistic child into a new classroom situation – whether new-entrant or not – requires a partnership with the parents. If the teacher gets their help up-front, instead of waiting for the problems to turn up, they will be less likely to end up in what is now considered the classic situation for parents of autistic children in mainstream schools: The parent on-call for addressing problems in person, even to the extent of affecting the parent’s ability to hold down a job. It need not come to that if the parents and teacher work together from the start, and strategise in advance; alerting each other to new issues as they arise and before they get out of hand.
There is nothing inherent in autism as a condition, that limits a child’s intelligence or makes them impossible to teach. My own son for example (who has a diagnosis of classic autism) is clearly intelligent and incredibly eager to learn. There are however aspects of autism that will get in the way of learning; it is after all a developmental delay and learning disability.
The methods and skills teachers learn for handling and helping an autistic child, can be more generally applied to the other children in the class too; potentially making them a more effective all-round teacher. The heightened awareness of aspects of communication – spoken and unspoken – and the problem-solving approach to behavioural and social issues, will not only benefit the rest of the class, they can also enhance the teacher as a person. Many people – parents, teachers, carers – have the opinion that working with autistic children has made them better people along the way. The sense of achievement as you help these children discover the world, and reach and exceed their potential, can be exhilarating and highly rewarding.
But it is a very real challenge. It can be exhausting; mentally, emotionally, and physically. Some teachers do not want to teach these children, and their frustration and anger about being put in such a situation, will be picked up eventually by both the child and the parent. It is all too easy to lose your patience with a child whose behaviour is repetitive and seemingly without purpose; who sticks to rules with a literalness that can be stifling and frustrating, while at the same time seemingly disobedient to the apparently simplest of requests.
Parents of autistic children are known to shift their children from school to school - despite the huge stress involved with change for a child who craves predictability and certainty – trying to find one that is genuinely welcoming at both an administrative and teaching level. Prior to the parent realising that change is needed, the child can easily become the victim of both student and (unintended) teacher bullying, in a way that seriously affects them and their entire family. Instead of putting the family through this, a teacher should be up-front about their concerns, and be proactive about asking for help. There are charities and government services that can be called upon to educate and assist them; they shouldn’t martyr themselves at the expense of the child.
Something of particular concern for parents is the inability of our children to tell us how their day went. Even when their speech is quite advanced, these children frequently struggle to talk about what happened at school beyond a clinical description of what class followed lunch-time. There needs to be regular and open communication between the school and the family, along with heightened awareness that the child is an easy target who will rarely be able to defend themself or seek help. These problems don’t necessarily get better as the autistic child ages: As social standing and peer relations become more important in the later years, autistic children who were perhaps previously coping, can become isolated and dangerously depressed.
My own family is just at the start of the school journey. For now my son is in his satellite class, but he is responding well and learning so much, that I can foresee him entering a mainstream school years from now. I am hopeful that if/when that day comes, the schooling system will be better prepared than they are currently, to welcome and include him beyond just being a name on their school roll. He has unlimited potential in the hands of the right teacher. He is utterly amazing for achieving what he does in the face of his challenges. When teachers recognise those extra challenges, and realise how much an autistic child can achieve with the right support, they have taken the first steps to making a lot of lives better: The child’s, the child’s family’s, the classmates’, and even their own.
Educating an autistic child is an opportunity; making the most of that opportunity can change lives.
During my studies I read a lot from professors and other teachers about what makes a good teacher but I never hear from the most important people of all, current students! So I have handed the microphone to ‘lessons to be learned,’ a year 9 student, to give a guest lecture to future and current teachers on the topic ‘what makes a good teacher?’
School is a very prominent thing in a child’s life. It is also a very important thing, although some students don’t realise it. If a child doesn’t enjoy school, it impacts a great deal on their life.
Teaching, I think, is one of the hardest jobs there is. Because really, it isn’t just one job. When you are a teacher, you are also a doctor, a counsellor, a role model, a diploma (on a slightly smaller scale, of course.) Many teachers that haven’t actually started on the job yet are probably thinking wait, this isn’t in my job description. But it is. And, unfortunately, it isn’t in the fine print. You don’t realise until it is too late.
I have been very lucky with the teachers that I have had in primary school. Most of them have been OK, if not good, one has been bad, and three have been incredible. I can easily say this, but to articulate why they were good bad or in between isn’t as easy as it would seem.
I still remember my reception teacher. A lot of you would have no idea what I mean, so for those that don’t, it is a different name of prep, or, in New Zealand I believe that the first year of primary school is called grade one. She was one of my favourite teachers. I am still glad today that I had a good teacher for my first year of school. She was kind and friendly, and had this amazing quality; she never talked down to us. She never got angry when we needed extra help, or she had to repeat something. This really, when teaching a bunch of 5 year olds, is crucial. Patience is a must, and getting angry or yelling at younger children really doesn’t work. You just end up with kids that will, and can, cry you a river.
So what makes a good primary school teacher? Well, there’s the $154 question right there. I’ll let you put an amount on my answer. The best teachers I have had have many things in common. They all were confident, professional, and could communicate things extremely well. They could look at things from different angles, so that if a student did not understand what they were saying, they could explain it in a different way.
Please, do not ever underestimate the importance of knowing what you are doing. Or at least looking like you know what you are doing. If you aren’t confident, kids won’t take you seriously. Finding a style of teaching is what will help you do this. And of course, that is going to take some practise. Making a mistake, might I add, is not going to destroy your career either. It’s the way you deal with it, that is what is going to count. It helps to break down the barrier between teacher and student, and says, look kids, I’m human too. Two important things that I would like to advise are do not try to be funny until you know your class, and don’t be ultra-strict and then start to be nicer, you have got to be consistent. And don’t let them walk all over you. It is about balance. That balance is going to depend on your class, and the kids in your class.
My favourite teacher was funny, and has a great personality. The classroom was relaxed most of the time, and when it wasn’t, it was because a serious issue needed to be addressed. She bended the rules a bit, she pushed the boundaries, and didn’t make us do things if she thought they were boring. She would push students where she thought they needed to be pushed, and took time to get to know the students in her class. Her classes were interesting, and she knew how to play on people’s strengths and weaknesses.
So what makes a good teacher? What makes a bad teacher? Keeping lessons interesting is crucial, and being liked is important to become a ‘good teacher’ in your student’s eye, but of course there is no accounting for taste. If you aim to be your idea of a good teacher, then I think you will be miles ahead of many other teachers. But, all of the really good teachers I have had were liked by most, if not all students in their class. It is possible.
Many thanks for Kimberley Rivett for this wonderful post on student teaching from the Associate Teacher’s perspective. Kimberley’s awesome teaching blog can be found over at e-learning 2011.
Every year I have the most amazing shared journey with a new person in my life. Every year, a young, vibrant, passionate, enthusiastic student teacher dances into my classroom, filled with ideas and ideals, and I have the unique privilege of being their guide for a short part of their journey.
I say ‘guide’ because they are young professionals. A guide is a person who takes us from where we are to another place and I believe that this is exactly the role and responsibility of every associate teacher. Sometimes we have difficulty positively impacting on the student teacher because of where their previous experiences have taken them. Sometimes we can struggle to contain their passion and harness their enthusiasm in a manageable bundle. But every time, without exception, we are making an impact on a learner who looks to us for clear guidelines, role modelling and for us to take care of their passion as they journey with us.
We, as associate teachers, are charged with your care. We are opening our classrooms and baring our teacher-souls in a way that we do with no other. And why do we do this? Because we remember what it was like to be you. We remember the teachers who helped us the most as we trained and we want to be that teacher to you. We also love to see you transition from when you enter our classroom to when you exit it, changed forever by your experiences. We love to see our children through your eyes and we love, most of all, learning from you.
For although you may not realise it, you have something wonderful and unique to teach us. Experience has not wearied our desire to learn and you come to us with fresh ideas and wonderful new knowledge that we can grow from. We count you among our blessings for the year, another student who leaves their palm-print on our soul.
So thank you, for your vibrant zest for learning, your passion for the children we teach, your willingness to learn, your choice to pursue an amazing vocation. And thank you, for the privilege of being allowed to journey with you for a small part of the lifelong adventure that you have embarked upon.
An Associate Teacher x