This is why you still love your favourite teacher

But what makes a “favourite” teacher? [Photo: Courtesy]

Everyone who has gone through the school system has that one teacher that they favoured and even loved - and teachers they dislike or even hate into adulthood.

The bad news, however, is that there is a positive correlation between the students’ attitude and performance. Research shows that if a student dislikes a teacher, that student is likely to perform poorly in that teacher’s subjects.

In school, teachers represent authority. Some students view this from an adversarial perspective.  It should not be surprising that they respond with a ‘similar’ adversarial gesture. If a student feels challenged in a class and the authority figure is harsh, dogmatic, makes threats, sarcastic or unnecessarily strict, that leads some students to feel the teacher is his or her adversary.

Students appreciate teachers who are not afraid to think outside the box, but as a teacher, you cannot think outside the box if you are not confident in your skin and are struggling to mask insecurity with a strict façade.

Picture a student who feels a strong personal connection to a teacher, talks to that teacher frequently and receives more constructive guidance and praise rather than just criticism from the teacher. The student is likely to trust that teacher more, show more engagement in learning, behave better in class and achieve at higher levels academically. Positive teacher-student relationships draw students into the process of learning and promote their desire to learn, that is assuming that the lesson delivery is engaging, age-appropriate and well matched to the student’s skills. This would be an ideal learning environment and students would often consider such a teacher as their favourite.

But what makes a “favourite” teacher?

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Just like mature people, students learn to appreciate [Photo: Shutterstock]

Most students would say that their favourite teacher is funny. I spoke to some high school students who said that the funny teacher does not always have to make you laugh out loud in class, they basically make you smile. Whether they deliver the classroom content with jokes, ridiculous puns, juggling, dancing, exaggerating, sarcasm, or simply just caring. Happiness is unforgettable.

Students also say that their favourite teacher is caring. A student might be in a large class of more than 30 students in class - a common feature in Kenya’s primary schools - but they still felt like an individual when the teacher recognised them thus.  The teacher did not only ask about their welfare, but asked and wanted to hear the answer. This teacher would do their best to try to support the student-academically and personally.

To me, this is the cornerstone of great teaching. If you don’t show students that you care, they are not going to care. Many teachers have mistaken notions about caring. Some mistakenly believe they are being kind and caring when they please their students, or when they rescue them and protect them from all disappointment. This is not caring; it is being permissive. The teacher must juxtapose firmness and kindness. It is not respectful to pamper students. It counterproductive to rescue them from every disappointment so they don’t have the opportunity to develop their “disappointment muscles.”

We all so desperately need the future to be made up of people who aren’t afraid to care.

A great American educator, Rita Pearson once said that “teachers become great actors and great actresses, and we come to work when we don’t feel like it, and we are listening to policy that doesn’t make sense, and we teach anyway. We teach anyway because that’s what we do.”

Teachers should wake up every morning happy. Granted, when it is Monday, you are out of gas and don’t have enough money to buy gas because you have an overdraft, Mwalimu loan, Mshwari loan, your lesson plans aren’t ready, and you just want five minutes of rest, it is hard to be happy. But, great teachers still get excited about work; they don’t show that their Monday morning has been terrible. They don’t show that because they are passionate about teaching students to be excellent people through their favourite subject.

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Before you fill their brains with math, science, reading and writing, show them that you care about them [Photo: Shutterstock]

When I was in high school, my history teacher taught us about the French revolution and Napoleon as though he had lived through the revolution. Every student in that history class loved him despite that fact that he was absent a lot. I think he embodied what we all aspired to be – intelligent. Students enjoy learning from someone who knows what they are talking about and are confident about it. No one wants to listen to an insecure teacher.

A great teacher considers the different abilities of learners. Still, the teacher maintains a high bar for every individual student. Students will have a feeling that the teacher knows the challenges of learning and believes in their capacity to succeed. Students work hard to understand the subject matter, as a “contract with the teacher” who expects and supports them hit their personal milestones.

Just like mature people, students learn to appreciate that most of the time, their teachers are on their side and want them to succeed. If the student looks good, so does the teacher. But the teacher also has to uphold a standard, so the teacher can’t give unjustifiable evaluations just to make him or her look good.

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Students are people. They have feelings, and they have needs. And most of them are shortsighted and immature; it’s part of being a kid. They can be inclined to think the worst of teachers. Yet, they want to be engaged, to be liked, to feel welcomed, and they need someone they can trust.

Before you fill their brains with math, science, reading and writing, show them that you care about them. Do not yell, speak softly. Look them in the eyes. Ask questions. Be their friend, before you are their teacher.

Of course, they may never love you, but they will respect you, care about you, and many will move heaven and earth for you. If they’re willing to do this, imagine how much they’ll want to learn from you. Then, you can teach them.

- Evelyn Jepkemei, PhD, is an education policy and leadership expert

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