Thursday, August 15, 2013

5 Things Students Expect From Their Teachers

(This is Part One in a two-part series about the expectations of learning relationships. Please check out Part Two: "5 Things Learners Expect From Their Educators.")

As the summer is winding down, we’ve begun mapping out the first few weeks of classes in September and also sketching out our goals for the new school year. This planning has inspired us to reflect on our personal aspirations as professionals and life-long learners. It occurs to us to ask if there’s a difference between a “student” and a “learner,” between a “teacher” and an “educator.”

Teachers want their students to be responsible and curious. They expect their students to follow class rules and do their homework. But what about the reverse? What do students want from their teachers?

If we gave students a choice about which classes to attend each day, would they choose our subject? Would they view our pedagogical approach as worthwhile and interesting? A teacher’s job is not to be an entertainer, obviously. Gail Godwin’s quote, that “Teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater,” holds true only on a certain level. But the role of the teacher is undoubtedly to engage each child and inspire interest.

The partnership between student and teacher relies on expectations. When these needs are met, they create decades of learning and admiration. When unmet, however, they foment years of delay and resentment.

What do students expect from their teachers?

1. Moments Of Wonder

Students yearn to feel inspired by what they are learning. They want to know that their time in our classroom is worthwhile. Instances of surprise and enlightenment, even if brief, can make all the different in motivating children to explore and delve deeply. One "ah ha" moment is worth one hundred perfect test scores. Arousing astonishment and eliciting revelation are the hallmarks of a talented teacher. We want to give our students an intriguing tidbit to fill the conversation void when parents ask at the dinner table, "So, what did you learn at school today....?"

2. An Understanding Of Their World

Students, especially middle schoolers, will always look at their teachers with a charitable disdain for their patently uncool status. Adults, in their minds, have no idea what it's like to be a child today, and they couldn't possibly listen to the right music or wear the right clothes. Still, a teacher has a duty to figure out how to convey an understanding and an appreciation for children's worlds. This means being able to navigate pop culture and especially being deft with technology. Essentially, it means not alienating young eyes by being deliberately out of touch with what is important to them.

3. Mutual Trust

The most common complaint from students of any age is, "That's not fair!" The students are right. Too much homework and too difficult tests are not fair. Double standards with class rules and draconian punishments for misdemeanors are not fair. Fairness equates to trust. Trust means clear expectations. And sticking to these expectations is the best way to let students know that, no matter how hard the test is, they are well prepared and validated along the way. If students don't trust that we as teachers are going to keep our word, treat them with decency, and give them the benefit of the doubt, then they will tune out everything else we try to communicate.

4. A Bit Of Humor

The most critical element in creating a successful learning community is the mood of the class. What is the tone of the instructor's language? What is the tenor of the student-teacher relationship? Laughter is a key to keeping this mood light and productive. Even the toughest of teachers wins points from her students if she can crack an unexpected joke. Witty banter and a dose of silliness go a long way toward keeping children engaged. They make the minutes tick by with less tedium, and hopefully maybe even some anticipation.

5. A Lively Environment

The environment of the class is a close cousin to the mood. This atmosphere refers to both the physical space and the personality of the teacher. Is the room decorated in a visually stimulating style, with enriching posters and relevant student work? Is the layout lively and pleasing, and the design kid-friendly and complementary? Furthermore, is the temperament of the teacher upbeat and joyful, with a stimulating sense of optimism about the journey the child and the adult are about to take together?


  1. Yes! And same five things teachers expect of their admin

  2. what do students expect from their playground pals

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