Leah Davies asked educators what they remember about former teachers, One said, “I remember a teacher who made me feel welcome, safe and important. She saw something special in me.”
Another stated, “It seemed like every day Mr. Miller would look me in the eye, smile at me, and acknowledge me in some way.”
Ed Bradley was a leading African-American journalist, best known as one of the anchors of the award-winning news program 60 Minutes. He worked as teacher in the early 1960s after graduating from Cheyney State College, and in a documentary about his life, recalled one of his teachers telling him, “You can be anything you want to be.” At the time he was surprised, but the thought guided him throughout his life.
Educators make lasting impressions through their everyday interactions with students – so it is important to be memorable in the right kind of way. Here are some ideas to help.
Helpful teachers are . . . . .
- calm and encouraging;
- fair and respectful;
- organized with high expectations;
- prepared and enthusiastic about teaching;
- able to demonstrate a sense of humor;
- and able to create a positive classroom learning environment (see “Successful Teachers”).
Here are what adults are saying about their favorite teachers:
…got us involved in fascinating discussions.”
…read exciting books to us.”
…gave us an opportunity to choose our projects.”
…took us to see a play.”
…played a dulcimer for us.”
…let us choose a famous person to research and impersonate.”
…had the class make cards for my dad who was serving in the Army.”
…asked about my mom who was in the hospital.”
…comforted me when I was sad.”
…never gave up on me.”
…made me feel that I mattered.”
It is also regretably easy to make a negative impression if we’re not careful. Here is what people said about the teachers who were memorable for the wrong reasons:
…seemed uninterested in teaching.”
…used the classroom as a forum to vent her personal problems.”
…got angry and yelled over nothing and everything.”
…frowned all the time.”
…called children names like ‘slow’ and ‘lazy.’”
…seemed to hold me in disdain because I was poor.”
…would say, ‘I just don’t understand why you can’t get this. Why can’t you be more like your sister?’”
…intimidated me to the degree that I was afraid to ask a question.”
…had me do endless, boring math problems.”
…yelled out my name and said that my paper was the worst he had ever read!”
…held me by my shoulders and shook me.”
…made me feel like I could not do anything right.”
…accused me of lying when I didn’t.”
Ideas that may serve to enhance positive memories in children:
Take a video or pictures of various projects, special occasions, field trips and outdoor play. (Note: It may be necessary to get each parents`written permission to include their child.)
At the end of the year, ask the parents to send in a blank CD to receive a copy.
Or, if you took pictures, combine a few prints in a Memory Book for each child. You may want to include a note describing the child’s greatest strength.
Empahsize the positive
Since children tend to live up to positive comments from their peers, a teacher could lead the class in the following activity. Ask the students to name attributes that describe each other (see ”Teacher Comments on Report Cards”). List them on the board, such as, “friendly,” “kind,” “fun to be with,” “shares his things,” “plays fair,” “good speller,” ”fast runner.” Then have the children write their name at the top of a piece of colored paper. Ask them to pass their paper to the left and have each child print a word or words that describe the named child. When all children have had a turn, you may want to collect them to screen for negative comments. In that case you could print up a list of the complimentary ones to share with each child. Otherwise, you can hand back the originals.
Administrators can encourage teachers to do their best by accentuating their specific strengths both verbally and in writing. Another idea is for administrators to ask the teachers of higher grades to have their students write a letter to a favorite, former teacher regarding their memories. Then privately distribute the letters.
Most children will not remember what a teacher taught as much as how he or she made them feel. Children who perceive themselves as accepted and valued will work harder and have positive feelings about their school experience (see “Helping Children Succeed”).
Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Leah Davies received her Master’s Degree from the Department of Counseling and Counseling Psychology, Auburn University. Her professional experience of over 44 years includes teaching, counseling, consulting, instructing at Auburn University, and directing educational and prevention services at a mental health agency.