/body Lessons My Students Taught Me That Will Make You Rethink Your Role | Science in the City

Apr 20, 2016

Lessons My Students Taught Me That Will Make You Rethink Your Role

As a teacher, and even a veteran teacher, I learn a lot from my students (yes, I know its a cliche, but its true!)

They fill me on and make sure I learn about clothing and music trends, and which rappers and TV shows to watch.  I learn about struggles that young children and teenagers have to deal with that I could never imagine, now, as an adult. I have learned what it really means to live in poverty, and gained an appreciation for the drive, ambition, and pride that some students have, against all odds.  When you teach in an urban area, in a very impoverished setting, and come from a middle class background, you learn a lot.   

However, across different grade levels (7th grade through college), different achievement levels (AP to credit recovery and special education), and different backgrounds, one thing sticks out to me.   

As a teacher, and even a veteran teacher, I learn a lot from my students (yes, I know its a cliche, but its true!)

Cutting across all of those groups,  I think the biggest thing that I have learned is how important positive feedback and recognition is. Students will work harder in your class if they feel successful.  You have the power to make sure they feel successful during class, regardless of their grade. Yes,  there are ways to make lessons more fun, more relevant,  more engaging,  but beyond all of those students need to believe that they are appreciated, recognized and successful in class to take a risk and be a part of those activities. 

Students quickly decide that they 'like' or 'hate' your class, and a lot of it has to do with feeling successful. They can also change their mind! You can control this!  I don't mean by changing your expectations or your grading system.

How can you make students feel successful?  Compliment them.  Compliment them on the skills that you want them to continue to utilize.   Reinforce the behavior that you want them to do. Reinforce when they are doing well.  Praise them for using those skills and behaviors.  Its a win-win -- they are feeling successful and are likely to continue or increase those behaviors.  

Let me give you a couple of examples.  My own son does taekwondo.  At taekwondo, when he struggles with learning a particular kick or gets beaten at sparring, he sometimes doesn't want to go back.  When he gets praised from the instructor, wins a contest, or gets a compliment from a peer, it makes his day. In fact, not only does it make his day, but it makes him that much more excited to go again, because he feels like he's good at it.  

This same principle applies in the classroom, but now, instead of starting with a blank slate, you are starting with students who may have previous 'scars' and preconceived ideas that they are not good at school, especially be secondary school.  

I have done a ticket reward system several times in my classroom over the years, depending on the group of students that I have, and the building in which I am teaching.  In most cases, the students who are the most responsive to it are some of the lowest performing.  Also, in most cases, they don't really want the prizes.  There are a few students who are really after the prizes, but most want the points/tickets -- they want the recognition!  That's not something they are used to getting in class! And when they do collect prizes, one of the most popular prizes (yes for high school and middle school students) is a positive note or phone call home.

I give tickets or points for things like getting to class on time, answering questions, taking notes, helping a classmate.  These are basic classroom behaviors, but often it is our weakest students who aren't doing these things.  It is part of our job to teach these steps.  And then when students do them, recognize that!  Then it is cyclical - as they do those behaviors they become more successful and it builds.

In thinking about praise and recognition is, and what kind of non-materials rewards we could give students I started a google search.  I typed and this is what I got

Yep! The top result is for employees!  Yes, I clicked on it.  And you know what, a lot of the ideas suggested I think would be great.  Everyone wants to feel appreciated, and recognized.  I would love to work in a place where there were things like comp time off (does that sound similar to free time to time to listen to music in class?), or a nice card from a boss, recognition at a meeting (similar to a note home, or recognition at an assembly), a better parking spot (not so different from a special seat in class).

School shouldn't be so competitive.  Who wants to come to a place every day where they don't feel successful and appreciated?!  I wouldn't want to work in such an environment, and I doubt you do either.  Not everyone fits into the one-size-fits-all approach that is present at schools.  Part of our job as teachers is to help all students feel successful, welcome, and appreciated for who they are.

I do my little piece by greeting them by name, making positive phone calls home, recognizing in class when they are working particularly hard or helping a class mate. None of those cost a cent! A ticket or point system, I believe, is really in place to make both sides of this process (teacher and student) more tangible, and to serve as a reminder. 

What do you do to help your students feel appreciated and successful in class? 

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