10 Practices of my Best Teachers

As I recounted in my last blog entry, teachers play a tremendously important role in all of our lives. With this in mind, I began reflecting on the qualities that made my best teachers, well, the best. I’ve compiled my top reasons here.

#1: Coming in before school or staying after school
6:45AM. Yes, I had teachers in the building that early to meet with me, proctor a make-up quiz or just to be available for my classmates and me. My pre-calculus math teacher was always willing to come in early to assist this poor, math-challenged student.  I also fondly remember my chemistry teacher helping me for over an hour after school one day to master significant figures.

#2: Enduring the awkward silence after asking a question.
We all know the situation. The teacher asks a question to the class. And, silence. Some teachers will go ahead and answer their own question or just disregard the question all together. But some of my best teachers painfully endured the silence with us and waited until they finally got an answer. They were so committed to the content and to engaging students in the classroom and would not accept passive attitudes and lack of participation.

#3 Going off topic during class discussion
This is one of my favorite traits of a teacher: the willingness to deviate from their set lesson plan and let the class go where the collective discussion led. I think this is the space in which some of the best learning and critical thinking takes place. While I can tell it is sometimes painful for a teacher to stray from structure, I think it encourages student engagement and is a wonderful opportunity to capitalize on students’ desire to learn.

#4 Allowing for individual questions to clarify understanding
This happened to me often in my math classes. Often the majority of the class would understand a concept, but I was the only one left with a puzzled expression and questioning mind. Rather than just ignoring this, my best teachers would notice. They would stop class, address the issue, explain the concept and ensure my understanding. These teachers would not simply wave off my mid-lesson questions, but rather took the time to make sure I was still following along.

#5: Giving us in-class time to read for fun
This happened most often in my elementary school years. In the lower grades, certain teachers would prescribe to the “DEAR” (Drop Everything And Read) activity allowing us students to spontaneously whip out recreational books for reading. Also, some of my middle school teachers allowed extra time in class devoted to allowing students to read as part of the Accelerated Reader program. This program and my teachers’ promotion of it, I believe, is the reason I read for fun to this day.

#6: Watching films to supplement class content
While some may buck at the idea of watching movies in school, I remember specifically many of the content-related movies I watched throughout the years. Most notably, watching several of the chapters of the Roots movie during my 5th grade U.S. history year stands out in my mind. Also, movies such as Gandhi, Annie and The Music Man, and even a number of Disney classics dubbed in Spanish are memorable occasions that helped me understand the content and still remember it now as an adult.

#7 Making us sing songs
The power of song is truly incredible. I am amazed at the things I still remember from songs I sang in grade school and high school. It ranges from the Shurley Method grammar program full of songs to remember nouns, verbs, prepositions, adverbs and adjectives, etc. to the Fifty States song from 5th grade (“Fifty Nifty United States of the 13 original colonies…”) to the Spanish alphabet rhyme from my freshman year of high school. How do I still remember these things years afterwards? I’m telling you, if you want to remember it, sing it.

#8: Assigning seats
I believe this to be an underrated quality of a teacher and his/her classroom management. From a teacher’s perspective, it probably helps reduce classroom chatter. From a student’s perspective though (in retrospect), it gave me the chance to talk and become friends with people I would never have done so otherwise. Building community one assigned seat at a time!

#9: Allowing alternative answers in class
This came up mostly in high school and college. The teachers who truly allowed for an open classroom environment that was promoted as a safe space to share views, opinions, and varying perspectives were those who I respected the most. Even when such ideas seemed to contradict the teacher’s values and beliefs, they still allowed these views to be expressed. I believe these instances added to the richness of classroom discussions.

#10: Connecting content with current events
This tactic truly epitomizes an attention grabber. Connecting the classroom and the real world always made school work seem more relevant and meaningful. The teachers who could successfully incorporate current events, whether it was a political development, a local happening, or even a sporting event, were those who captured students’ attention and inspired interest throughout the course.

I speak from my own experience in listing these top 10 practices. Yours may be different. The important thing is that there are distinct qualities of teachers that each one of us found to be most beneficial and enriching to our educational experience. I encourage you to also reflect on what traits really made your best teachers so exceptional.

Erin_GahimerErin Gahimer is the summer Development Intern for IPSEF. She is a life-long resident of Indianapolis seeking to learn more about the non-profit scene in the city. She graduated from the University of Dayton in May 2013 with degrees in Sociology and Spanish and has plans to attend graduate school in the Fall.