As I have written before, here and here, a teacher’s first job is to inspire students to learn. Konrad Glogowski has written along similar lines about ‘passion-based learning’, and my Grade 8 students read his article and added their own thoughts on their class blog.
Reading their posts, I find some common threads about what teachers can do to inspire their students.
1. Be passionate yourself, and share your passion with your students. Most of my students agree that an uninspired teacher will not inspire students. “I believe that teachers being passionate in teaching is the key to everything”, writes a Grade 8 girl.
2. Explain why. Repeatedly my students say that when they don’t understand the point of an activity or lesson, they lose interest. History lessons seem to be a particular problem (“Who wants to learn history? The stuff in the past doesn’t matter anymore. What does matter instead is the future”) but any topic can seem irrelevant if its relevance is never explained. By chance I came across an article in Teacher Magazine in which comedian Bill Cosby is interviewed on exactly this subject. Cosby tells about a speaking engagement in which he discovered that one of the panel members was a math teacher.
3. Teach for understanding. If students find a topic boring, 9 times out of 10 they don’t understand it. “Whenever you stop understanding things, you also lose interest . . . “. (On the other hand, if the teacher finds it boring, we have a different problem altogether. See #1, above.)
4. Be supportive, kind, and open. Primary school teachers understand this. Unfortunately, too many secondary school teachers seem to think their first commitment is to the curriculum, not the students. They forget, too, that even though adolescents try to act older than they are, they still respond very well to kindness, and very poorly to its absence. (Who doesn’t, in fact?) Listen to what my students say.
Students clearly understand the importance of teachers being kind and open, and cultivating positive relationships with students. I wish every teacher understood this, too.