Spend time on any high school campus and you’re bound to hear students talk about which teachers are good and which ones they would rather avoid.
“A good teacher makes a good class,” said Talia Antell-Proulx, a junior in Communication, Arts, and Sciences (CAS). She went on to say that any subject matter can be engaging if classes are taught by a good teacher. Oftentimes, high school students talk about their classes in terms of how good their teachers are. This instinct is perhaps amplified at Berkeley High School (BHS), where multiple teachers often teach the same students. But which attributes are most important when it comes to assessing what makes a great teacher? It can be difficult for students to express exactly what about a teacher makes them well-liked, but there are some basic characteristics most students can agree on.
The interest with which a teacher listens to students’ inputs and communicates classroom expectations can often make students favor one teacher over another. Zulqarnain Sheikh, a BHS freshman, said that when teachers “listen, acknowledge our concerns, and help kids in the best way possible,” they show that they actually care.
Antell-Proulx agreed, explaining that when teachers listen to students, better student-teacher relationships are formed, which in turn “creates a better atmosphere for learning.” One of Antell-Proulx’s teachers recently worked with her class to create a list of rules surrounding cell phone usage in the classroom. The teacher collected feedback from her students and later enacted the rules that mattered most to the students. This kind of communication established an equitable and pleasant environment for learning.
Well-liked teachers also show confidence in the classroom. This includes an understanding of the material being taught as well as the ability to present the lessons in a variety of interesting ways to better meet students’ learning styles. “There are definitely teachers whose teaching style works better for me, and those are the classes I do better in,” said Antell-Proulx. Sheikh added that he appreciates teachers who “make it easy for us [students] to understand the subject.” Essentially, teachers should know how to interact with their audience. Of course, staying organized and knowing how and when to discipline students is important, too.
Teachers who show true, unbridled passion for their subject matter are valued as well. Allison Toan, another BHS freshman, explained that when teachers are passionate about their subject, they are able to draw students in better. This makes the class more compelled to retain information and pay attention during the lessons. “Passionate teachers don’t just talk to the class, they show us what they like to teach, why they like to teach,” Toan said. “Teaching isn’t just a job to them, they want to be there.” Toan’s photography teacher embodies this positive quality. By incorporating relevant darkroom and camera jokes into slideshow presentations, the teacher demonstrates her love for the material she teaches as well as her more personable side.
Additionally, good teachers want to improve. Philip Halpern, the CAS co-leader and a video production teacher for twenty-nine years, thinks that flexibility and communication with students help teachers become better at what they do. “Kids come into class with a whole bunch of strengths and areas for growth. Our job is to help them fulfill their potential,” said Halpern. “You got to let them lead, you got to listen to them. They know what they need best and teachers would be wise to listen.” Halpern added that some students might feel reluctant to give feedback to teachers, “but a lot of teachers really want to meet the needs of their students.”
It’s no doubt that teaching is a difficult job, especially with the limited resources, large class sizes, and public school curriculum requirements present at BHS. So much value is added to the learning environment when teachers go the extra mile to communicate with their students. If a teacher’s approach seems inflexible or lacking, many would prefer that students let them know. After all, as Halpern said, “the best kind of feedback is honest feedback.”