Before eleventh grade biology, my idea of the perfect teacher was someone that would give me a high grade with minimal effort. My eleventh grade biology teacher, Ms. M, altered my vision of the perfect teacher and showed me that a teacher can inspire motivation, persistence and passion in students. Observing her teaching style has allowed me to identify what qualities constitute a successful teacher:
1. Make your students respect you: This is often difficult, especially with a group of rambunctious teenagers. But on the first day of class, our teacher made it clear that she was going to work us harder than the average bio class (our class was considered “intensive”), move faster, give us less help and expect more from us. Students immediately respected someone who believed they could handle more and laid down the hall, expecting no less than reaching full potential.
Another part of gaining respect occurs over the course of a few years. It means inspiring a class to such a great extent that they tell classes below what an incredible teacher they have. My class had already come in with the knowledge that Ms. M was an outstanding teacher, which helped. But her hard, unwavering determination to give us a hard time and to push ourselves to our capacity on day one, created a great deal of respect. She wasn’t here to screw around. She was honestly here to teach us by forcing us to learn even when we didnít want to.
2. Enlist fear in your students: This point goes hand in hand with the first. As much as we respected our teacher for being hard and resolute to teach us, we were afraid of what she would think about us if we didnít meet her high standards. Everyone in the class worked hard simply because they wanted her to appreciate their hard work. Ms. M acquired the popularity level of a celebrity. It was all we talked about at lunch, in the lounges, over the phone at night as we did our homework. We admired her and respected her so much; we wanted the same from her. But we didnít just expect it to happen. We knew we had to earn it. And we were afraid of what would happen if we didn’t prove ourselves worthy of her. Of course, it didn’t make a difference to her. But that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we were afraid of what would happen if she saw us as weak. Because she was so strong.
3. Want your students to understand: Our teacher proved to us that she wanted us to understand the material, both inspiring us to work harder and making us respect her honest intentions as our teacher. Every test we had consisted of around 50 multiple choice and 2-3 short answer questions. When she handed back the test, she wouldn’t mark the multiple choice but put the number you got wrong on the top. If you could figure out which ones you got wrong and explain why, you would get partial credit back. This did two things for the class; number one, it acknowledged that the tests and the class itself were difficult and sometimes a little extra help was necessary. It also proved that Ms. M really did want us to learn and thought our ability
to understand our mistakes was more important than performing well. She hoped that realizing our error would help us remember the information correctly in the future. And it did. This showed us that she was looking out for our best interest as students, a fact that both motivated us and comforted us.
Give credit where credit is due: Finally, Ms. M was willing to acknowledge when we had busted our butts and done well both as a class and as individuals. Everyone was desperate for her respect and she was a hard teacher; never giving us a day off, never making tests easier and never cutting us some slack when grading. So to get acknowledged for hard work was even more rewarding; we knew we had earned it. It made all the hard work even more rewarding. There are several types of students: those who work for themselves, those who work for others and those who work for a type of combination. Ms. M’s teaching was so rigorous and her credit was so honest and sincere, that it made every student motivated to work for her praise. It was just that good.
My biology teacher taught me that teachers are really like parents; they want you to succeed and they want to take care of you, but they also want to lay down the law and challenge you. Teachers aren’t a student’s enemy, or a student’s chew toy, but instead are a student’s mentor; someone both challenging and supportive, someone who wants you to be successful but only if you have really earned it. Ms. M was an inspirational teacher who I admired as a teacher but respected as a fellow human being and desperately wanted as a friend. On the last day of class, one student desperately blurt out, “Ms. M, could you adopt us? I think I speak for all of us when I say we all desperately want you to!” We all nodded our heads in agreement. “No,” she answered,“but you can come sit in on my class again next year.” And I just might do that. Not just for the chance to enrich my education but for the chance to see my favorite teacher at work and pick up a few more lessons on a great student-teacher relationship.