“Opportunity looks a lot like hard work” – Ashton Kutcher, American actor
At all levels of education, the interaction between the student and teacher is perhaps the most influential actor in a student’s academic success. Research shows that exposure to effective teachers, over several years, makes a tangible difference in achievement. Alone, this may be enough to significantly narrow the achievement gap. Those gifted educators who can motivate the unmotivated, inspire the uninspired, and engage passive learners are treasures worth more than all the boy bands, athletes and Wall Street moguls in the world. Indeed, great teachers can and do make great students. However, there is another side to this story.
Since retiring from education, I have pursued my avocation as an interview coach. It is my passion and I have accrued a specialized skill set as the result of more than 20 years experience. I often coach women who compete in pageants, where they are judged on the basis of a personal interview. It’s much like interviewing for a job, with the contestant as the product. One of my clients, an impressive woman, won a state title and then moved on to the national competition. Think of how difficult it is to distinguish yourself from fifty-one highly accomplished contestants, during a brief interview. It is a high stakes challenge. Together, we worked through the winter, spring and into the summer. Still, there were times when her brain was out of sync with her mouth. Finally, the day for the interview arrived. I think I was more nervous than she. Her call came around 5:00 PM. Her voice foreshadowed what had occurred. She had ‘aced’ her interview, engaging and entertaining the judges. I listened with pleasure as she described each question, her response and the judge’s reaction. Then, she said, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” I replied, “You were a good student.” Indeed, she was open to critical feedback and constantly sought improvement.
Yes, good students DO make good teachers.
Many decades ago, child-centered learning became the norm. No longer could the teacher stand in front of class and recite facts and figures without regard to whether the student was absorbing any knowledge. Instruction became individualized and data began to drive education. Subsequently, standardized testing placed ever greater pressures on teachers, who became increasingly responsible for the student’s progress. A lot of good things came from this re-invention of education and some not so good things as well. Today there is a movement toward including student performance on standardized tests in teacher evaluations. The basic flaw in this thinking lies in the unequivocal fact that no teacher, parent or system can learn for the student.
Relieving students of virtually all responsibility for their learning is like leaving your car in neutral and expecting it to go forward.
The student – and only the student – can put his/her brain in drive. All the motivational techniques, theme based magnet schools and self-esteem inflating rewards are destined for failure, unless the individual student actively participates in the learning process.
Chances are that a student is not going to encounter super teachers in every grade, class or subject. As in life, we have to learn how to deal with divergent personalities, communication styles and temperaments. One size does not fit all. Rather than protest a cruel fate that relegates a pupil to less than his or her preferred choice of instructor, a savvy student can turn any situation into a win-win experience. To my mind, learning to do this is as important as any curriculum content. Engaged, interested, responsive students, no matter what the subject or style of instruction, make a teacher better in so many ways.