NSTA Press publishes high-quality resources for science educators. This series features just a few of the books recently released. The following excerpt is from Rise and Shine: A Practical Guide for the Beginning Science Teacher, by Linda Froschauer and Mary L. Bigelow, edited for publication here. To download the full text of this chapter, go to http://bit.ly/12jiPOQ. NSTA Press publications are available online through the NSTA Science Store.
When you see a purpose in what you do, feel confident, and like what you do, it shows. Students are among those who can immediately read others. They will know if you are eager to get to school each day, if you enjoy what you teach, and if you care and are sincere in wanting to support them as they try to do their best. Teachers who feel good about themselves, their students, and their school are more likely to reach out to students and support their learning, make them feel better about themselves, and create a dynamic learning environment.
Qualities of an Effective Teacher
There are many lists available that identify the qualities of a good teacher. The following qualities have been selected from several of those lists (Colker 2010; Haskvitz 2002):
- Collegiality. You are not in this alone. One of the first things you should do to create a positive attitude is link up with others in your building. Find positive people with whom you can share, laugh, and confide. You will find the mutual support you can give one another will go a long way in helping you keep spirits high. A collegial relationship can also add greatly to you professionally. You can be a more effective teacher by developing connections with your peers. You can begin this by pairing up with another beginning teacher or getting involved in online communities of teachers.
- Positive expectations. Knowing what you and your students can or cannot achieve is an expectation. You predispose yourself to positive outcomes when you have set them as expectations. Set high expectations, and let your students (and parents) know you have set this bar. Many people say that it takes just as much energy to achieve positive results as negative results.
- Classroom management. Learning to manage your class instead of disciplining your class should be a priority. This means you should immediately find ways to have a highly organized, well-managed classroom where students can learn. Management refers to everything you do to organize the space, materials, equipment, time, students, and instruction. That includes layout, cleanliness, organization, displays, accessibility and availability of lab equipment, materials, and progression of learning. It is key to have everything ready for students before they walk in the door. Let them see that you are prepared for them.
- Flexibility. Even the most deliberately well-planned lesson can go wrong. That is part of what happens in science. Turn the potential disasters into teachable moments that can provide learning opportunities for your students. You must be flexible and take advantage of every teachable moment. Overplan and have a backup plan as another activity you might include if the current lesson is failing.
- Empathy. Consider what is happening in the lives of your students. If there is a huge pep rally and the big game is Saturday, then consider whether Monday is the best day to have a long-term assignment due. The ultimate application of this skill is knowing of problems that individual students may face and then helping them do their best, given the situation.
- Patience. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that students are learners. If they had already developed a conceptual understanding of the science topic they are studying, then they wouldn’t need you to teach it to them. Be patient with them. Slice back on a topic if it requires more scaffolding, chunk out the concepts in manageable pieces, give students more time to learn and understand, or repeat difficult information in different ways to meet their needs. Learning is not a race.
- Mastery of teaching science. It’s said that if the student has failed to learn, we have failed the student. Developing mastery in the field of science and in the pedagogy of instruction is essential to being an effective teacher. Your learning did not end when you left the university. As a matter of fact, it has only begun. You will find that there are many more science concepts and teaching strategies to learn. Teachers are lifelong learners.
Effective teachers provide the opportunities for students to be effective learners. But another one of the benefits of being an effective teacher is that you will have fewer discipline problems. Students will know what to do, how to follow routines and procedures, and what your expectations are for them.
Some Other Qualities to Keep in Mind
Supporting the Team
Teaching teams and the science department make the workload easier, the task more pleasant, and the outcomes potentially more valuable. There are specific steps you can take to become a valuable member of a team. Consider this list of important parts of supporting the team. Reflect and compare it to your behaviors.
- Listen to the opinions of others before you make decisions. Listen more than you talk.
- Value the experience of others.
- Work toward the goals determined by the team.
- Be understanding and supportive.
- Be on time for everything.
- Do your share. Show your willingness to carry part of the load.
- When you make a commitment, keep your promise.
- Treat everyone in the school community with courtesy.
- Celebrate the hard work and contributions of others.
- Admit when you are not sure of something.
- Be a cheerleader for your team and the school.
- Do not gossip.
- Conduct yourself in a professional manner.
- Show your willingness to continue to improve.
Step outside the box. Find new and interesting ways to teach topics. Being creative will not only keep your students actively engaged, but also provide you with newfound interest in topics you may not have considered interesting in the past.
You need to develop new ways of looking at science content and instructional strategies. You will find it necessary to re-teach or reinforce concepts in a variety of ways. Being able to look at the material in a new way and then sharing that with students who may struggle with the concept is important. One way to develop this sense is by looking at the way other teachers handle the same science concept. Consider how they creatively teach the concept and related skills. Perhaps it is a matter of changing the sequence: Maybe some lectures become labs, or the textbook might be replaced with articles from periodicals or web-based reading. Consider the variety of approaches that might be used to teach the same concept and skills in different ways.
Exhibiting a Sense of Humor
No one wants to enter a classroom where there is a grouchy person in control. Smile at your students, even if you don’t feel like smiling. It is likely that they are not the reason for your lack of a smile. Let them know you are happy to see them.
Find novel ways to interject humor in your lessons. Check websites for cartoons, funny sayings, or illustrations that apply to the science concept you are teaching. Post them on your whiteboard or overhead projector.
Something is bound to go wrong in a science investigation or a demonstration you are conducting. Instead of attempting to cover it up or deny it, let yourself and the class laugh at it. It might prove to be a wonderful teachable moment. Provide an upbeat atmosphere. Science class doesn’t need to be all laughs, but it should be joyous. Play music that fits the science concept you are teaching, tell anecdotal stories surrounding the concept, wear a costume, stage a re-enactment, say something outrageous for students to react to, play a silly game to help them remember the steps in a procedure, or have “celebrations” for the birth of a famous scientist or anniversary of a discovery. But when having fun, do not use sarcasm. Although it may be funny to some students, others may be hurt by it.
Forget about it. Holding a grudge or bringing up past errors is an unhealthy way to develop relationships and move forward. That is true in your personal life, and it is true in the classroom. Forget about the discipline errors your students may have made in the past. Treat them with respect, and let them know you anticipate they will follow regulations and move on. Of course, if they repeat the error frequently, you can’t forget about it. That will only lead to the loss of control of not only that student, but others as well. You must also continue to be aware of and deal with students who behave unsafely in the science lab.