Teachers who have a special way of getting their points across that make us feel good or look at things differently do so through personal connections.
So who better to ask what makes a great grade school teacher than students who are living that experience daily?
In continuing our look at outstanding educators, part of Black Press and Staples’ Great Teachers initiative, supported by Thrifty Foods, we heard from some well-spoken middle and high school students around the Capital Region.
We hope the teachers on their list of favourites, those who are really making a difference, will be nominated for Great Teachers awards at vicnews.com/contests.
Oak Bay High’s 2014 valedictorian Mohammed Abousaleh says the best teachers are those who capture students’ attention and “make every class, every hour, engaging.”
Not only that, instructors who are organized also get high marks from this honour roll student.
“When you’re making use of all the time you have in class, it kind of motivates you to look at other aspects of life,” he says.
While he appreciates teachers who aren’t afraid to change their mind, and those who encourage students to draw their own conclusions on discussion points, there has to be balance between flexibility and structure. “One of my teachers is very strict in (that) homework is assigned every night and checked every day. I appreciate that, because it disciplines me in my own learning.”
Direct involvement with students strikes a chord with some.
Grade 9 Spencer middle school student Daniel St. Laurent, lit up when talking about a shop teacher who builds things and puts them up around the school.
“I help him with some of his projects,” Daniel says. “(He also) helps people step out of their comfort zones and try different things.”
Mixing things up also keeps things interesting, he adds. “One of my teachers teaches in three different ways. One day he’ll do it through video, another day it’ll be using worksheets and the next it’s talking lessons, having discussions.”
Personal connections also allow teachers to make more in headway with individuals who may be having troubles in the classroom, says Spectrum’ Grade 11 Dezy Manuel.
“The best teachers go into a class where everyone is struggling and they make them better. They get people passionate about the subject and use that to their advantage,” she says.
“I love teachers who can relate to a student. If they can’t relate (to their teacher) they’re not going to have that (same level of) interest in the subject.”
Adds Sophie Adams, in Grade 11 at Edward Milne Community School in Sooke: “To me a great teacher is someone who doesn’t consider themselves a teacher, but a mentor, and a mentor is someone who is passionate about what they’re teaching and develops great relationships with students.”
Knowing more about individuals, such as whether they work a part-time job outside school and have a lot on their plate, is important, she says.
Grade 9 Vic High student Avery Paul, who spent a year-and-a-half being home schooled, is big on relationships, especially given the way she learns.
“I like to work at my own pace, I have my own specific learning style. I’m really visual and like to work with my hands. I like when a teacher allows me to be flexible with my learning style. That shows they care about their students.”
Tristan Knapp-Fisher, in Grade 12 at Parkland secondary in North Saanich, agrees.
“When you connect (with students), it’s almost like you’re a friend. You can get more of them,” he says. “If (students have) a sense that ‘the teacher really wants to help me,’ they’ll open up a bit. It’s about being a little more human instead of just having it be your job.”
Students easily perceive when teachers are not entirely present, he adds. “It’s helpful when the student knows (the teacher is) not thinking about things they have to do (later); they’re being present and actually wanting to help.”
Manuel, who serves as a teacher’s assistant in a learning strategies class, adds that excellent educators have something else that differentiates them from others.
“They’re usually not just a great teacher, they’re usually just a really great person and they’re positive role models.”
Evidence of great teachers seen in stores
Harmen Berghuis, general manager for the Staples School Tools program, says store staff who work with students and families get a sense of how teachers think outside the box when it comes to assignments.
What sticks out in his mind are the science fair or heritage day projects on which students aim to reach a little higher.
“What we see, especially on the projects that are done by a couple of students or a team of students, is that teachers build into the assignment the ability for co-operation and collaboration even a bit of leadership, perhaps,” he says.
How to nominate your great teachers
• Black Press, Staples and Thrifty Foods encourage you to nominate a grade school teacher you feel is making a difference in the community. From all nominations, one teacher each from the elementary, middle school and secondary levels will be honoured at a gala in June. To nominate, visit vicnews.com/contests/ and click on Great Teachers. All nominators are entered to win a $50 Thrifty’s gift certificate.
Previous stories in this series: