September 21, 2021
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
This is the first in a series of guest blogs by the 2021-22 Michigan Regional Teachers of the Year. Heather French is an English language arts and visual arts teacher at Lake Linden – Hubbell Middle/High School at Lake Linden Schools.
― William Arthur Ward
I told my classes on the first day of school that my “theme” for the year was honesty. I found last year in the midst of COVID that being honest with my students was a humbling and life-changing experience. I took what I learned from that and applied it to my “back-to-normal” classroom this fall.
More often than not, being honest with my classes about what I was confident in doing as an art teacher and what I was not-so-confident in as an art teacher was one of the keys to being successful. I know that sounds bizarre, but it worked. I have no confidence in my work with clay. To be honest, I am terrible at working with clay. If the choices were to chew off my own arm or work with clay, I would opt for the arm. It is not my strong suit.
But, I was honest about it and we worked on skills together. Was I better by the end of the unit? A little. But I demonstrated the whole time that what mattered the most was effort. As long as you tried, that was what mattered the most. Did I give it my absolute best shot? Yes. Did I try and try and try again? Every time. Did I get frustrated and have to start over? Yes. Was I a master ceramicist at the end of it all? Not a chance.
I started to think of honesty in a more broad sense in my classroom. Do I love everything in the textbook in English? No. Do I like working with acrylic paints? Not particularly. Do I want to read “The Great Gatsby”? Absolutely.
Sharing that side of yourself that is genuine and authentic is important. Being able to share a moment of pure silliness with your class is vitally important. There are so many little pieces to the whole day that add up to a positive school experience for our students that it is hard to quantify what any one single thing is – it is the compilation of several little things throughout the day that make you a person they can go to, talk to and engage with on a daily basis.
That honesty helps build that between you and your students. In order to be able to be that great teacher and inspire your students, you need to have that relationship built with them. And that comes through working to establish those connections with your students on a daily basis. Really take the time to make that connection with each one of your students. Seek out the ones that are quiet and not always a part of the group. They may need your attention the most. You can never be sure how much of an impact your little side conversation with a student may have – so take the time to get to know them, and let them know you.