I gaze upon the 20 eager young faces as I stand before them on the first day of class. They look so innocent, filled with expectations and hope. They want to learn about me. Am I nice, am I fair, will I treat them with dignity? I see each face and silently wonder, “Can I reach each one of these souls? What are their fears and hopes? What are their ambitions? What do they need? Can I really help them?” Each of my students has so much potential. I will try my best.
Indeed, each student is precious. Each has so much potential. That is why teaching is such an awesome responsibility. We ask ourselves, “Will I make a difference to each of them? What will they say about me at my retirement dinner? What memories will they have of me?” I know you, the reader, want to do your best. You must believe you can positively affect each student you encounter, even though you may feel you are not making any progress. With such a positive outlook or disposition, you are ready to get to know your students and really make a difference.
During the next few columns I’d like to share with you key, research-based ideas to keep in mind when working with your students. For this first column I’d like to answer this question: WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MY STUDENTS?
All students have special needs. Although we need to serve the needs of students who have been officially designated as learning disabled, we must realize that all students have special needs. Think about your own child or neighbor’s child. Each child is unique and each of them has special needs. Children are unique. Isn’t that true?
All students learn in different ways and at different paces. The days when teachers simply talked and students dutifully listened are over, as if they ever really listened anyway! Good teachers use multiple strategies and ways to reach students because teachers know that each student processes information differently. Some are good auditory learners while others learn best through visual stimulation. Good teachers also know that students learn at different paces. Just because Chana “gets it” immediately doesn’t mean that Sorah, who doesn’t immediately connect, is necessarily slower. She just may need some additional think time or special assistance. Given your hectic schedule, how do you make time for each student?
Some students may have difficulty paying attention. Aside from those students who have serious processing problems, all students, at different times, may tune out. Think about yourself at a shiur or during your time as a student. Ask yourself, “What can I do to encourage students to attend to the tasks at hand?” You may have to gently remind Miriam, “Can you answer that question?” You may have to restate or rephrase a question for them. Rather than accusing them of daydreaming, frame your redirect in a positive way. What might you say?
All students are motivated. Ever hear someone say, “Well, he’s just not motivated?” That is simply not true. All students are motivated, though they may not indeed be motivated to learn what you are trying to teach them. The first step is to realize that all people are driven to act in some way and it is our task to tap into that natural motivation. How can you, as their teacher, use their natural energies in positive ways to connect them to the content in your class?
Who they are makes a difference. Your students’ social, cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, as well as gender, may influence how others treat them. Can you provide instances wherein a student’s social class, culture (e.g., Sephardi vs. Ashkenazi), or gender negatively affected their academic or social progress?
These are just a few ideas I wanted to share as you begin this exciting New Year. I look forward to your comments.