The Leadership Academy: A Teacher’s View of What it means to be a Great Teacher
What does it mean to be a great teacher? We’ve all had them. Great teachers are the ones we remember long after we’ve left their classes. They’re the ones that planted the teaching vocation in our minds as we sat in their classrooms, and they’re the ones who we strive to emulate in our own classrooms.
So, what sets these teachers apart? Were they the funniest, the smartest, the ones who gave the least amount of work, the easy “A”? No, the great teachers were the ones who set the bar high, and when you reached it, they set it higher. They’re the ones who knew what you were capable of and expected nothing less. They’re the ones who spent time on their plans, making then fresh and relevant, not recycling plans from years and years past. They’re the ones who made a connection, who listened, who learned your name, even the “different” ones (like Marilena, for instance), and made sure they pronounced it correctly. Because you weren’t just another student. You were theirs to teach, it didn’t matter if it was for a semester or for a year.
As teachers, we know great teachers too. They’re the ones who don’t forget why we teach - for the kids. The ones who know that when done correctly, teaching is one of the most challenging, yet most rewarding jobs in the world. I remember in my first year teaching, a colleague said how he had it made - he’d been teaching the same classes for over 8 years. He was “coasting along”, according to him and laughed that someday he should probably find a “real job”. I remember how upset I was when I heard that. I felt badly for his students and I felt badly for him. What a wasted opportunity to make an impact on so many kids. The only mark he was leaving was one of negligence and mediocrity. I haven’t seen him in over 10 years, but every so often, when I feel that I’m in danger of just “coasting”, I think of him. He has no idea the impact that casual statement had on me.
A great teacher also leads by example. They inspire not only their students but their colleagues. When asked, any teacher can name the great teachers in their school. The ones who rise above the idle gossip and complaining, who come to school every day, happy to be there, eager to see what new learning and experiences will happen today.
Most importantly, a great teacher knows that they never stop being a student. Just as we cultivate a growth mindset in our students, we have to believe it of ourselves. We never stop learning, we can always do better. We remember that teacher we had who never let us do “just enough”. Our students expect more and deserve more from us. When we set goals each year - we should set them high. Don’t set ones that are easily reachable. Challenge yourself. We may not reach each goal we set, but that’s OK. We grew, we reached and next year we’ll blow that goal away!
A teacher appraisal is a way to grow and do better. Every administrator wants the best for their school. So many times, constructive criticism is received badly when it should be welcomed. I know I’m not perfect - I know I can do better. My first teacher evaluation was when I was 22 years old. My department head sat down with me afterwards and asked if I realized that I called on the right side of the classroom 8 of every 10 times. Not only did I not realize that, I was shocked. I was so worried about the teaching that it didn’t even occur to me that I was basically neglecting half the class when they raised their hand. While I don’t sit waiting enthusiastically for my evaluations I do look forward to the output that can help me become a better teacher.
A great administrator must not only seek out these teachers, but cultivate them. They must recognize these teachers, these leaders in their schools. They can’t sit by and let teachers just “coast on”. Our
students and our teachers deserve better. The great teachers we had as students expect nothing less from us.
Written by: Marilena Martucci
Fourth grade teacher at Assumption School, Ansonia