Students Really Do Notice Our Great Teaching

When I taught second grade at a wonderful Catholic School in Maine, I lived about 40 minutes away from the school and so I never really spent much time in the town in which the school was located.  This didn’t seem to impact me too much.  I liked the drive in as it allowed me to time contemplate life and rework or reflect upon lessons.  While I liked to arrive to my classroom almost two hours prior to the start of school each day and generally stayed an extra two hours after school each day hosting a club or preparing for the next day, my students never saw me arrive or leave school.  One would think that this wouldn’t have created any confusion for the students, and that one would be wrong.  As the students never saw me come or go, they all assumed I lived at the school and slept on the reading couch in the classroom.  I remember the first time I learned this fact; I had to stay late at school for a PTA meeting and so I went out to dinner with a few of my colleagues.  While we were eating, one of my students and her family came into the restaurant for dinner.  She came over and said, “Hello.”  Nothing out of the ordinary, until the next morning at school.  “Mr. Holt,” she said, “So do you eat at that place every night before you go to sleep on the reading couch?”  Kids really do think and say the darndest things.  From her perspective, that made complete sense.  She was making an astute observation, even though it was completely inaccurate.

I often wonder how closely my sixth grade students observe me in the classroom.  Do they notice the activities I create?  Do they see how I manage the classroom?  Do they understand what goes into being an effective teacher?  While my answer has generally been, No, today made me question everything.

In STEM class today, the students performed their geology presentations for the students.  They were the teacher.  They used slideshow presentations, worksheets, quizzes, candy prizes, and online and interactive games like Kahoot to convey their points.  I was so impressed.  They ran a tight ship.  Although I provided them with numerous reminders on the expectations prior to today’s class, I mostly repeated the same things; make your lesson fun and engaging and think about how you learn best as a student.  They clearly took these reminders to heart as they taught their self-chosen geology topics with gusto and energy.  Several of the students had index cards with their talking points listed on them, asked questions throughout their presentations, and seemed very rehearsed.  It was phenomenal.  In almost every presentation, though, I noticed something peculiar.  It was as if I was looking in a mirror.  Almost every student made use of some aspect of my teaching.  Some of the students asked random questions throughout their presentation to be sure the students were engaged while others walked around the room while they spoke.  They made great use of the slideshow program as well.  I realized that they were copying what they had seen me do in the classroom.  They were watching me even when I thought they were thinking about the big game after school.  Yah for me!  Were they employing my teaching practices because they liked them in action as a student or because they thought they were effective?  Does it really matter?  They were mimicking what I do as a teacher, in a positive way.  Imitation really is the most sincere form of flattery.  Just when I thought my students didn’t notice the little things, they go any copy me when it’s their turn to teach.  Ahh, how cute is that?

It’s times like these, as a teacher, that I realize how important my role in the lives of my students truly is.  They are watching everything I do and so I have a great opportunity to model positive and healthy behaviors for them.  If they see me making good choices in and out of the classroom, perhaps they will do the same.  “With great power comes great responsibility.”  That quote wasn’t intended for superheroes alone, it was meant for teachers too.  While we have much power over our students, we also have a responsibility to them and their families.  We need to support and challenge our students in a compassionate and respectful manner at all times.  And that’s why I wear a cape in the classroom, to remind me, daily, of this vital job I have.


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