After 17 years as a classroom teacher and another seven working for Chicago Public Schools’ Head Start program, I think a lot about what is needed for success in this field. For instance, years of experience counts, as does graduating from an accredited university and gaining credentials in your area of specialty. Even just having the supplies needed for your classroom is important.
But these are just the starting materials. Real success requires the following:
You need passion to teach because it requires so much effort—a lot more than what you are compensated for in your paycheck.
If you don’t have the heart to teach kids and promote learning for them, you will be miserable and ineffective. You’ll spend a lot of time explaining why your students are not successful instead of using that energy for creativity and success.
2. Classroom Management
My classroom-management preparation was a professor explaining that principals do not want teachers constantly sending challenging kids to the office. While that’s true, it’s not a strategy for managing students.
Teachers need professional development around classroom management, because without it, you will not be able to teach. Classroom management should be a requirement for all education students.
3. Willingness to Improve
Teachers regularly plan their lessons. Sometimes those lessons go well and sometimes they don’t. When they go well, think about what you did and how to keep doing what is successful. When lessons don’t go well, think about what went wrong and why.
It’s natural to think that it’s the students’ fault. They were not being good listeners, and many may have been talking throughout the lesson. Though that may be true, look closer at what you would do next time to ensure more students are successful. Thinking first about what you did and what you can do better is a recipe for an effective teacher.
By knowing yourself, you will be pruning your work like a gardener and strengthening your pedagogy. You are improving how you teach. You will get better and better and it will show in your students.
4. Supportive Administration
You can have all the things above, but without your administrator knowing and supporting what you want to do in that classroom, you will not have the freedom to do everything that you know works for children.
For example, when I taught kindergarten, my school leadership supported me in augmenting our usual math curriculum and introducing coin money to the children. Each year I observed my students becoming more articulate as I taught the unit. In fact, I taught this for seven years before I decided to conduct my own research and found that what I saw was backed up with data! By having the support of our administration, I was able to practice and later prove that I was teaching my students how to become critical thinkers by teaching them how to count coin money.
I believe if you have these four elements in your teaching arsenal, you’ll be more effective and able to connect with your students and better help them learn. These elements may seem simple, but they’re essential to good teaching and learning!