Lately, I’ve been thinking about what makes a great teacher. Not good, not adequate, not complacent, but, as I’ve heard many a principal exclaim, “Rockstars!” In my career, I’ve seen many RockStar Teachers. Even when I was in the classroom (really, was it just last June when I said goodbye to being a classroom teacher? But I digress…), I made it a habit of visiting classrooms to engage with kids and teachers. Now, it’s my job to be in classrooms, working with teachers, so I get to see more and more educators in action. As I begin to grapple with what makes the “Rockstars” a few traits start teasing out:
- Rockstar Teachers have a passion for their craft. They know teaching is about so many things, but when it comes down to it, the kids are what we’re all here for and Rockstar Teachers know it.
- Rockstar Teachers are filled with joy. Working with kids isn’t easy. Every age group has it’s challenges (most kindergarten teachers don’t want to teach fifth grade and most fifth grade teachers wouldn’t get caught dead teaching kindergarten), but Rockstar Teachers know: how can you expect your students to be more excited about being at school than you are? They don’t just ‘show up,’ they’re present, engaged, excited to spend the day with amazing kids.
- Rockstar Teachers strive to have a work/life balance. Trust me, I get it, teaching requires us to work beyond contracted hours – especially if you’re a new teacher or changing grade levels. Learning new curriculum is never easy and you will most likely have to drag that reading/writing/math book home over the weekend to prepare for next week if it is your first year teaching it. That being said, there has to be a balance. Go home and let your family (husband, wife, kids, pets, etc.) recharge you. Let them fill you with joy (see above) you can bring back to your students.
- Rockstar Teachers know teaching is kid-centered. Here’s something they don’t tell you in college (and Really Good Stuff and Learning Resources don’t want you to know it either): Your classroom doesn’t have to be filled with store bought posters, signs, and do-dads. Fancy bulletin boards are for adults, not kids. Keep it simple. Work smarter, not harder. Let kids’ work fill the walls as they create it. When adults look around your room, let it look like (insert grade level) work. If every paper looks the same, ask yourself why? Are you spending all that time cutting out and prepping materials when your kids could do it themselves? Let it go. It took me years to figure out this simple dictum: if I’m teaching kindergarten, the work should look like five-year-olds made it. If I pre-cut every piece and then sit and make sure they’re all ‘right’ is that the best representation of their work? It doesn’t have to look ‘perfect’ for it to be perfect. Again, it’s not about us, it’s about the kids.
- Rockstar Teachers know developmentally appropriate behaviors and allow kids to be kids. Trust me, I get it – in today’s No Common Child’s Core Race to the Behind testing world, teachers are under constant pressure to push kids. Here’s what I know – it’s our job to balance this ‘push’ with what we know is best for kids. In younger grades, kids need to talk to process and learn. When reading, most young readers can’t subvocalize yet, so a classroom full of young readers isn’t going to be quiet. Recently I read a quote that made me stand up and cheer (yes, I stood up in my living room and cheered) – ‘Engagement is not obedience; focused attention is more important than still bodies.’ (Mindset for Learning, Hertz and Mraz). I’ve been in rooms where kids are talking, often standing up to make their point during a lesson, but they’re engaged. I also know there is a push to take recess and play away, I ask you, is there a way to keep it? Integrate play into the work you’re doing, in any way possible. Recently I visited a K-5 school that had a ‘block room’ for 3-5 grades. Use music and drama to teach. Research shows ‘play is the work of children’ and it’s our job to do whatever we can to make our classrooms playful.
- Rockstar Teachers lift other teachers up. Yes, there are schools where teachers support each other and want each other to be successful. Crazy you say? Here’s the reason: Rockstar Teachers are secure enough to know that others’ successes only benefit the school and ultimately the kids (and isn’t’ that why we’re all here?). Instead of trying to bring others down or being negative, Rockstar Teachers celebrate the ‘wins’ of others and then push themselves to do better.
- Rockstar Teachers are lifelong learners. I know it’s easy to lock yourself in your room and keep doing things the way you have for years. I also know there are some activities that you cherish and kids love (yes, I always did a Thanksgiving Placemat…) and there is nothing wrong with that. Rockstar Teachers know that sometimes, others will challenge you, push you, even question you. An opportunity to grow is a chance to become better at your craft. Becoming a better teacher should always be our goal. Better teachers result in more learning for students. If someone wants to collaborate, welcome the opportunity. Yes, our plates are always too full, so be careful with what you take on, but don’t shut down – make sure your plate is balanced and healthy and then dig in.
- Rockstar Teachers love kids. I know, this one sounds simple, but it must be stated – if you don’t love kids and you’re a teacher, you’re in the wrong profession.
Now, here’s the good news. If you’re reading this and feeling like you’ve got room to grow, you’re probably A) already a Rockstar Teacher or B) on your way! Teaching is not a race, but a journey. It takes years to hone your craft (although I’ve met first-year RockStar teachers). As we ask our students to have a Growth Mindset, we too should push to not lock ourselves into boxes. Just because we’ve been doing something a certain way for years, doesn’t mean we can’t change. Tomorrow is a new day. I used to say, every Monday is a new beginning, but really every DAY is a chance to try something new. Go on, take a risk. Take a leap. You never know, you might just soar – after all you’re a RockStar.