Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teachers
With credit to Stephen Covey for the concept, here are my seven habits of highly effective teachers:
1. Desire: In order for you to succeed at anything, really, you have to want to do well. Teaching requires the professional to want to do the job. This profession can drain the emotional stability out of the most stable individuals. If you don't want to battle through the inevitable lows of the profession, you will find yourself simply earning a paycheck. When a teacher is simply earning a paycheck, they lose effectiveness.
2. Be Yourself: Nothing screams desperation more than a teacher trying too hard to fit in. Our students are savvy enough, and judgmental enough, to call out a teacher who hasn't discovered their own unique gifts. If making students stand on the tables and proclaim "Oh Captain, my captain," don't do it. If lecturing from the front while the In-Focus machine purrs away, don't do it.
3. Prepare: Certainly we should come to class as prepared as we expect our students to be when they enter the classroom. But preparation goes beyond the lesson plan. We must prepare ourselves to journey down an unexpected path when it arrives; or we should prepare ourselves to take a new approach if the original does not work. I know the frustration of a failed lesson plan. We spend time preparing our lesson and we expect it to work. Sometimes it doesn't. And yes, it is a sinking feeling in our stomach when those faces look back at us with the blank bewilderment we feared.
4. Don't Move on until the Concept is Understood: As a teacher who has taught seniors preparing for college, I say this with the utmost respect for my fellow teachers. But when I have a senior in high school who cannot punctuate the end of a sentence properly, or answer basic plot questions from their reading, we all look bad. I know that we operate in a system that can't leave children behind, so don't allow them to move forward if they haven't mastered the skills. I have felt pressure from my administration to lower my levels of expectations, and yet, I can't. I can't in good faith allow a student to pass a class if the basic skills have not been mastered.
5. It's about the students: This could possibly be the most difficult to achieve. Again, in a profession where Central Office "suits" dictate lesson plans, curriculum, and classroom pedagogy from a building ten miles away, it is easy to forget that we serve our students. We don't serve the community, though they have power and influence; we don't serve the parents, even the ones that actually take the time to get invovled; we don't serve our government, despite what they believe. We teach students. Don't ever forget how important those lives are to the future of our society.
6. Go with what works: Back when I student taught, my collaborating teacher spent an insane amount of time teaching grammar to ninth graders. Very few English teachers today spend a critical amount of focused, direct instruction on grammar. But, years later when five or six of those students enrolled in my Pre-College English class, I was thankful. He wasn't hip and he didn't believe in "standards based grading." But, his students learned--even if they went on to block it all out of their minds. Education fashion comes and goes. Your methods one year will fail the next. If the students learn from it, then use it.
7. Don't Give Up: This last one comes from experience. There were times this year that I wanted to give up on a student. I didn't want to feel that disappointment again. So at the end, when that student said, "Mr. McNamar, I can't thank you enough for never giving up on me," I understood that beyond the lesson plans and the standards, we must teach our students that they have value. Their value is not based on their grade. Maybe they won't enjoy the reward today, or at graduation, but years from now, when they press on in the midst of trying times, it will be because someone in their life taught them to never give up.