Peeling back the layers: students, instructors uncover what makes a good teacher

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Grace Vance

Sophomore Alli Foster never liked social studies. Her dislike toward her classes was because of the poor teaching style of her instructor, she said, rather than disinterest in learning. Foster had never had a studies teacher she enjoyed until she got to Austin Reed’s social studies class.
“I’m not even sure I can accurately convey the extreme difference between his class and what I was used to in social studies,” Foster said. “In his class, social studies wasn’t a boring topic. It was something that we could think about and really get into.”
A textbook was no longer the singular learning tool; instead, Reed encouraged students to get out of their seats and talk to people. This enabled students to answer their own questions rather than having the teacher tell them.
In previous classes, Foster said teachers lacked in providing motivation for students to care about the subject, which left her with no more knowledge on the topic than before. The opposite was true with Reed’s class.
“In his class, I couldn’t wait to learn,” Foster said. “I loved the history that we studied and the facts about government, but most of all I loved how Mr. Reed found a way to relate the things we were learning in class to our lives outside of school.”
Effective learning involves studying the material in multiple ways and teaching it to others, according to psychology.about.com. This includes applying curriculum outside of school and talking to others about newly learned topics in class, promoting new ideas which helps the brain to solidify information.
“To me, that is what makes a good teacher,” Foster said. “The ability to take a subject that most students hate and turn it into a subject that students love.”
Another teacher who taught Foster to love a subject she hadn’t previously was physics teacher Travis Gabel. What made him stand apart was his knowledge about science and the effectiveness of his teaching style.
Before teaching for five years at Jefferson Junior High School and two years at RBHS, Gabel was inspired by his past teachers who profoundly impacted his life in a positive way. These teachers showed that they truly cared about students through their passionate teaching. This is a philosophy that Gabel tries to achieve every day when the bell rings.
“I shake every student’s hand every single day as a way to build relationships, talk to every student personally [each] day and to teach the importance of a proper greeting,” Gabel said.
Although he realizes how he starts each class is different from how other teachers begin, he said it is a way to bring students closer to the goal of the class: helping “every student reach their fullest potential.”
One thing that denies students of this opportunity to learn is the use of phones during class, which Gabel said is the most challenging part of teaching. To get these unmotivated students involved in class, Gabel believes active lessons, like labs, help them refocus on science.
“Variety is important in any class,” Gabel said. “So, I like changing things up quite often so students experience a variety of different learning styles.”
While students like Foster have praised Gabel for his teaching style and abilities, he also has his own idea of what makes a teacher great. One characteristic is motivating students and allowing them redemption until their goals are met.
“A good teacher, with a lot of effort, can teach just about any content,” Gabel said. “So focusing on the action of good teaching and helping students achieve a desired goal is extremely important.”
For each student there seems to be a different definition for what a good teacher is. Junior Jesseca Alexander said teachers should be able to communicate and connect with kids while also having an extensive knowledge of their subject.
“I think to be a good teacher means to effectively portray [all] the ideas to teach your kids the curriculum and do it in a fun and enthusiastic way that everyone learns by,” Alexander said.
Last year she had Marla Clowe as her Algebra 2 teacher, who was “by far the best math teacher” she’s ever had. Similar to Foster, her previous math teachers did not interest her in the subject. Alexander thought of math as the dreaded component of each school year, and not until having Clowe’s math class did she begin to see the subject differently.
“I didn’t think math was my favorite subject, but Mrs. Clowe really brought a lot of energy to the classroom, and showed how it could be an investigation,” Alexander said. “It wasn’t just boring, it had applications and it actually meant something in the world.”
Alexander went into her classroom before school about once a week for extra help. One way Clowe helped her, she said, was by presenting a problem in a new way.
Clowe, entering her seventh year at RBHS, after 18 years of working at Jeff Middle School, was driven to pursue teaching because of her passion for kids.
At the University of Missouri, where she was a student, she said one of the most important words of advice she got was from now-retired department chair Evelyn Aubrant, who told her that every minute counts in teaching. One way Clowe does this is by coming into class with a positive mind-set to maximize the students’ experience.
“I think it’s just about coming in and understanding that everyone’s coming from a different place, and trying to be aware of everybody’s situations,” Clowe said. “And just working as hard as you expect your students to work.”
To motivate students during the long class period she tries to empathize with them.
“The most important part of my job is wanting students to enjoy math,” Clowe said. “But I also hope to give them opportunities for their future by not closing doors.”
Enthusiasm is another vital characteristic effective teachers should have, according to natcom.org.
“You can teach something the same way 20 times and I won’t learn it,” Alexander said. “But it’s when you’re enthusiastic and you get me involved in it and show me how interesting it is, then I’ll really start to learn.”
By Grace Vance