Teachers today are working with increasingly diverse populations with a diverse set of needs. In the past, those included learning about gender, race, and ethnic diversities. We also began learning about addressing the needs of gifted, standard, ESLL (English as a Second Language Learners), Special Education, Behavioral Education, etc. all happening within the same classroom environment. Then educators learned about addressing a variety of additional educational barriers and safety issues such as dyslexia, autism, bullying, suicide prevention, online predators, etc.
Yet again, this year, we are learning how to adapt to teaching in the age of a pandemic. This has meant overcoming a variety of obstacles, such as technology barriers – access and availability. Schools all across the nation are being encouraged to resume classes, many are doing so but virtually as they did in the Spring. Some are not. Each decision seems to incur just as much anger as comfort.
Here in Texas, out Governor has asked schools to resume in person. Supposedly, Texas now has one of the highest count cases of Covid in the United States, and as such many schools are choosing not begin classes until September, or October, and even then, beginning virtually.
The school district where I teach currently plans to resume classes in person in just a couple of weeks. Teachers are now starting back for training purposes, and students are expected to be back on August 3. This has obviously caused a myriad of reactions, and will continue to do so.
No matter how you feel about this issue however, continuing to hone a solid set of essential skills makes for a more effective, and successful teacher. These are the reasons most of us continue our work regardless of the current climate.
1. Genuine Interest in Others - This one is an essential component of a teaching career. When we wake up in the morning, we have the drive and energy to sit with people through their best and worst. We try to be fully present for our students, however difficult or long the day becomes. Will hope we still can ten/twenty years down the road. A sustained commitment to facilitating positive transformation and human-to-human connection while imparting necessary skills is key to a successful and fulfilling career in education.
2. Self-Reflection - An effective teacher knows that it’s just as important to look within themselves as it is to carefully observe others. The idea of “Self Care” isn’t new, but is essential. By feeling well, a teacher can relate well and empathize with students. Thinking well means to think creatively as well as critically, to conceptualize in theoretical terms, and to demonstrate great academic skills. To act well means to conduct oneself in the service of others and the professional field to facilitate positive change when needed.
3. Ability to Listen – On Multiple Levels and to Various Audiences. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but effective listening as a teacher is a skill. We need not only to listen to what is being said, but how it’s said, why it’s said, and what it means in that particular context – i.e. content, delivery, and context. We listen “between the lines,” so to speak, for those things that aren’t being said. What a student, parent, or colleague omits from a discussion can speak just as clearly as what is communicated out loud. Perhaps most importantly, we should know how to listen without judgment or evaluation when needed, but also to know when they ARE needed.
4. Accessibility & Authenticity – An educator must be accessible to all students in order to gain their trust, but perhaps more importantly, a teacher needs to be genuine and empathetic—in his or her communication, listening, and professional persona. Developing a connection with each student is key to moving forward in the educational process, and is the core of an effective classroom experience.
5. Flexibility - A good teacher has flexibility in world views and a strong understanding of multicultural issues. Each student is going to be different in his or her background, experience, and engagement in the classroom. Each individual student approach may even change from one semester to the next. Being able to communicate, or find a variety of approaches that may work for each is the hallmark of a good teacher.
6. Sense of Humor - Educators sit through some uncomfortable, difficult, and often strenuous days. That said, it’s alright for both students and teachers to laugh along the way. Timing is, of course, everything, but knowing how to form a relational connection with someone, or a group, to the point of developing a shared sense of humor is a skill that shouldn’t be overlooked. Humor and a nuanced understanding of its uses in the classroom environment is a valuable tool.
Obviously, there is no formula for the perfect teacher. There isn’t even a formula for a perfect day. Some days, semesters, years, or pandemics are particularly difficult. All we can do is our best. Hopefully, these six skills will help.
What are the schools in your area doing for this school year? What do you feel is the right decision and why?