As a teacher, I try my best to grow and to learn. I read books about different areas of education, I attend school and district professional development, and try to collaborate with my colleagues to grow my practice. I have a confession to make, however. I don’t learn nearly as much about teaching and learning than I do from the young people sitting in the desks in my classroom. The students I have this year, in particular, have been great teachers and I learn something new every day.
The other day I asked them, “What do you think teachers need to know? What advice do you think that I could give other teachers about how to improve?” It was an interesting discussion, and I may write about some of those things another time, but eventually, we finished up and moved on with our day. When school finished, one of the girls in my class, approached me once everyone had left and said, “You know, Mr. Schultz, I have been thinking about what you asked us earlier. I think the most important thing teachers need to know is how important it is to get to know their students.”
Well now here was a topic I really wanted to sink my teeth into, so a couple of days later I asked the kids in my class two questions. The first was why it was important for teachers to get to know their students and the second was how teachers could go about getting to know their students better. I found their responses really insightful and wanted to share them.
Why is it important for teachers to get to know their students?
There were really two types of responses to this question. The first had to do with students as learners. They understood that a teacher that understood their strengths, weaknesses, and interests would be better able to help them to be successful academically. They knew that someone who knew them as a learner would be able to know what areas where they were struggling and be able to help them through those struggles or know the areas where they were strong and build on those strengths. The comment that hit home most in this regard was a boy that said, “It is important for the teachers to get to know their students because the more they get to know each student the better they can teach them, in a way that they will learn.”
The other reason why students thought it was important for teachers to get to know their students was so that they would know them as people. They felt it was important for their teacher to know them so that they could help them when they were upset, having a difficult time with friends or the other things that were going on in their busy lives. They felt it was important to know and understand their interests, hobbies, and what was important to them so that a teacher could treat them with kindness and respect.
What are some of the ways that teachers should get to know their students?
Many of the answers to this question were what I expected. They talk about how teachers could have students write about themselves, fill out questionnaires, draw pictures of themselves, and other suggestions of that nature. Two responses, however, were simple, yet important to point out. The first? Talk to them. Have conversations with them on a regular basis. Talk to them about their learning, but not just about their learning. Talk to them about what interests them outside of the world of academics. The students thought it was important to be able to talk to their teachers about their hobbies and their friends and what sorts of music they liked so that they could get to know them as people.
The second piece of advice surprised me a little bit. What was it? Play with them. Students want teachers to play games with them. This could be games on the playground or in the classroom, but they were not talking about learning games. They were talking about fun. Students want teachers to have fun with them. Now there is a revolutionary idea in education!
There were a few things that I think are really important about what my students were telling me. The first was how important it is for teachers to know their students as learners and as teachers. Teachers who know how their kids learn can guide them and lead them to grow in their learning. Teachers who know their students as unique individuals can help them to navigate the often confusing and anxiety filled lives that they lead.
The second thing that teachers can take away from what my students told me was to have fun. Enjoy your time with your students. Talk to them. Play with them. Lighten up. I think this is a lesson that many of us still need to learn and I know that I hope to continue to have my students be my most important teachers.