When the Teacher Becomes the
by Joe A. Martin, Jr., Ed.D.
A relationship expert once said that during an argument, there’s
usually three sides to every story: his side, her side, and of course, the truth.
This is something we must definitely keep in mind as teachers. As educators
(especially professors), we have been accused of having the biggest egos on this side of
One of the quickest ways to burn out in education is to
refuse to embrace change. Whether we want to admit it or not, life moves and changes
Students are constantly exposed to material we once never dreamed
existed. Ironically, although students are exposed to more, they typically know less and
are less mature than the generations before. However, that does not discredit the fact
that students still bring a unique perspective to our classroom; it’s through
their eyes that we can become better teachers.
One of my best strategies for maintaining a high level
of motivation in the classroom came as a result of a technique I learned as a
stockbroker and sales trainer. Rule #1 in sales is that in order to bring the customer
to where you are (your level of understanding), you must first go to where they are
(they’re current level of understanding). In simple terms, you must know your
customer (in this case, your student). This simple principle recharges and rejuvenates
my batteries every semester; because the more I know, the more I grow.
Relating this concept to the education arena, you must simply and clearly define your
objectives and what you would like to see happen over the course of a semester (or even
a brief interaction) with a student, and then you help your students to do the same. In
other words, know where YOU want to go, help them find out where THEY want to go, and
then come up with a strategy for both of you to get there. In negotiating terms, they
call this a win-win solution. Obviously, this strategy can only work if you value the
student, and you believe he or she can make you a better teacher.
instance, during my first three years in education, I quickly realized that what I
wanted and what students believe they needed were diametrically opposed to each other.
However, after many personal talks with former students, I soon discovered that students
weren’t as concerned with the subject matter itself as they were with how the
subject matter was being taught. They were more concerned with my attitude than the
answers I would give them. This was a revelation.
I came to the conclusion
that, like a parent, my experience and education dictated that I was qualified to teach
them what they needed to know to succeed. However, when it came to how they received the
information, I was totally at their mercy. Because, regardless of how good or important
the subject matter is, if no one is listening, then no one is learning. It was at that
point that I decided to “go to where they were” in order to bring them to
where I was.
I met individually and collectively with students to get their
perspectives on the class. I asked them about what worked in class and what didn’t?
I asked them about what they would like to see more or less of? What would they like to
see changed (about myself and/or the class)? I asked them if whether or not they would
recommend this class to another student, why or why not? I asked them what would make
the class more productive and more interesting? These questions can be asked in almost
any work environment, for almost any department, not just in the classroom. I asked
similar questions of my clients when I was in Corporate America.
All of the
input I received, except for the individual meetings, were done anonymously. I can’t
begin to tell you how important this information has been to my career. But in less than
a year after implementing this idea, I was nominated twice for the distinguished
teaching award at my school (the youngest ever nominated).
If you want to
become a more productive educator in or outside of the classroom, the key is student
input – you must seek it. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the
same things over and over again, but expecting different results. If you listen to and
solicit feedback from your students, you won’t have to repeat the mistakes of the
past. So value your students and their input; trust me, they hold the keys to your
Joe Martin is an award-winning national speaker, author,
professor, and educational consultant. His mission is to help students,
teachers, and administrators learn, lead, and live with purpose and passion. To
find out more visit his web site at https://www.NewTeacherUniversity.com.
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