What a Good Teacher Does

September 07, 2015 by Bill Ivey

Today was our first day of classes, and the beginnings of this year's 2015-2016 Humanities 7 class coming together as a community. As always, we began with Jonathan London's wonderful jazz poem "Hip Cat" with its theme of "Do what you love to do and do it well." These kids, at least some of them, have definitely figured out already that learning is a process, something at which you might steadily improve but also something that involves challenges and roadblocks and stuckness. Equally important, they view that kind of attitude as fundamental to who our school is.

I heard lots of positive, happy comments about the notion that independent reading is truly free choice, and about the similar notion that they can write in any genre about anything they choose for independent writing. "What about unit work?" asked one student. "What are we going to learn?" It's a moment that happens almost every year, and one I love. "I don't know yet," I said, "because I don't get to decide. Your questions do. We'll build units around your questions." I explained the process, made sure I'd answered all the follow-up questions they wanted to ask, and prepared to move on to the next activity.

Also a ritual of the first day most every year, this is the moment I ask them, "What does a good teacher do?" We do a think-pair-share - they brainstorm ideas, share and discuss them in groups of two (or three), and then share them with the class. I use this list as a guide six times a year when they assess me. Here's what they came up with:

  • balances easy and hard (in between)

  • introduces new concepts in a way that is easy to understand

  • is respectful toward students

  • respects and accepts everyone's opinion

  • gives every student a chance to prove they're responsible

  • trusts students

  • doesn't give so much homework that it's too much to do in one night

  • is strict about work (about getting it done) but is not mean and scary

  • offers extra help to students that need it

  • makes time for students to ask questions

  • doesn't discard any ideas that a student gives them

  • lets you have opinions on what you should learn throughout the year (personal interests and opinions and ideas)

  • gives everyone time to voice their opinion

  • is fun

  • respects individual ways of learning and tries new ways for the students to learn 

  • splits their time evenly among everyone

  • lets kids give their ideas and help build the curriculum

  • loves their students

  • is not too specific about certain details - focuses on what really matters

  • has a balance between different types of activities

It's a strong list, with many ideas I've heard before, many ideas rephrased and reframed compared to the past, and a few ideas I hadn't really seen before. It gives me something to think about.

All in all, it was a first day full of promise and hope. What more could I ask for?!


Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: Middle School, social justice, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Middle Level Education, Education, Democratic classroom