I got the opportunity to interview two high school students from two different schools in Illinois. Jeff is 15 and schools at Joliet West High School in Illinois. He is a bright kid but is not motivated. He struggles in school and often postpones doing homework. His priority is on social life and has disciplinary problems. He came from a small Catholic K-8 school and had no problem adjusting to big school socially though he seems unable to get on track academically. Generally, he does not get along with teachers probably because he has a problem obeying authority.
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14-year-old Allie is a freshman at Minooka high school. She is very bright and motivated. She came from a small non-alcoholic private K-8 School and her grades are mostly A’s. She confessed to having experienced a hard time adjusting to big school socially and this affected her grades but she is now better acclimatized.
In interviewing the two students I came up with questions relating to their experiences at school, their willingness to learn new ideas, their preferred teaching methods. I also comprehensively engaged in enquiring about their favorite teachers and the reasons behind their choice of best and worst teachers.
Jeff indicated that he is only in school because it is mandatory. He despises the teachers and the entire administrative staff of the school. He has developed a negative attitude towards almost everything else except his social life. My attempts to suggest some positive elements of the teachers and the administration bore no fruit. He termed the learning experience as a nuisance and a waste of time. He hated the idea of having to understand the numerous concepts in all the subjects in such little time.
Allie was very positive about school. She respected both the teaching and the non-teaching staff and had a positive attitude towards learning. To her, the learning experience was desirable and pleasurable.
On learning about their attitudes and experiences at school, I sought to know who their favorite teachers were and the reasons behind them. It emerged that though Jeff was not interested in learning, he still had a favorite teacher. Surprisingly, the mathematics teacher was his favorite yet mathematics is considered a difficult subject. The reasons behind the success of winning Jeff were in the ability of the teacher to remain gentle and encouraging. Jeff described this teacher as an understanding person who cared about his relationship with the students on an equal level as his ability to pass on skills. The teacher attended to the specific case of each student and tried to strike a cordial relationship. The math teacher was described as being accommodating to all the students and had a sense of humor which kept the class alert at all times. His demonstrations were easy to follow and were very well developed to make the concept unforgettable. He also made sure that the assignments he gave were within the confines of the concepts he had taught. This worked well with the students as they did not have very difficult times trying to understand new concepts and using them on their own. The teacher’s assignments were mostly part of revision and practice but not learning new ideas. He combined the use of textbook examples as well as his own developed demonstrations to explain concepts.
Allies were quick to state that her favorite teacher was the Chemistry teacher. She described him as having a thorough understanding of the chemistry subject. Any questions asked by the students elicit a direct answer from the teacher with no delays. Again the teacher came out as one who appreciates the different paces at which the students learn. He takes time explaining slow learners in a manner that acts as a way of revision for fast learners like Allie. Still, he is sensitive to individual students and tries hard to establish a friendly relationship with the students. He is keen on getting feedback from the students and remains diligent in acting on the feedback.
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Jeff named his economics teacher as his worst teacher. He told of the bossy attitude adopted by the teacher while dealing with the students. It emerged that Jeff and the economics teacher had regularly quarreled due to the lack of understanding on the part of the teacher. The teacher is never friendly and regularly engages in dictating notes to the students instead of explaining the concepts and demonstrating them. Again, he often engaged in issuing assignments on topics and concepts not covered in class. This made the students struggle in doing the assignment.
Allies named her physics teacher as the least favorite. She told that the teacher engaged in favoritisms while dealing with the students. According to Allies, this teacher has a selected clique of “very good friends”, another one seen as “general friends” and the last one composed of “potential enemies”. Anyone belonging to any of the last two categories is indirectly treated with some level of contempt. The very good friends enjoy better responses to questions and even better grades in the assessment tests which do not tally with the end-of-period exams.
To support the details given by the two interviewees, I was able to establish that they performed best in the subjects taught by their favorite teachers while performing poorly in the subjects taught by the worst teachers.
Through the interviews, I was able to gather some very important soft skills able to make my work very easy. I learned that the learning process is not entirely dependent on the ability to pass on skills to students. The students will always assess the attitude I have towards them. Adopting an attitude of service as opposed to being the boss is a crucial element of managing to strike a good relationship with the students. Indeed, the more the students think that the teacher cares and understands them, the more they are likely to appreciate him or her.
Indeed it is not possible to be a friend to everyone but that does not mean that a teacher should appear friendlier to some students than to others. The aim should always be to strike a balance in the relationship. Very importantly, the teaching process should be made as easy as possible for the students. Assignments should largely be used as a way of assessing the level of understanding of concepts already taught and not as the breaking ground to new concepts. The input of the students in some decisions can also help boost their feeling of importance. They can be asked to suggest certain topics to be reviewed before exams as these help identify their areas of strength and weaknesses.
In conclusion, not everyone can be humorous enough to please students. However, this is no excuse to keep the class dull and gloomy. A teacher should always seek ways of making the class lively and in an upbeat mood as this is best for learning.