What makes a good teacher great? | Azul Terronez | TEDxSantoDomingo

What makes a good teacher great? | Azul Terronez | TEDxSantoDomingo

October 12, 2019 100 By Ronny Jaskolski


Translator: Kesmat El Deeb
Reviewer: Riaki Poništ I’m obsessed with the question: “What makes a good teacher great?” I’ve collected 26,000 responses
to this question, in eight different schools, from the poorest schools in Los Angeles, to suburban schools in Texas,
to elite private schools abroad. And after 24 years of teaching students, I’m still perplexed by this question. Today, I’m going to teach you the lessons I learned
from those thousands of students, and learn what I found out from them
if we just listen to students. The thing about it is that during my time
of asking kids this question, I realized that we don’t ask this question
for a particular reason: schools are afraid. Based on fear, they don’t really
want to know what kids think. Partially because they don’t think
kids will take it serious. I’m going to share with you
one of the most profound quotes, answers to this question
that I’ve ever received. [A great teacher eats apples] (Laughter) Now, I know what you’re thinking. Doesn’t this prove my point? “Great teachers eat apples.” When I first saw this,
I dismissed it as silliness, but it appeared again and again. So I thought, “There’s got to be something to this,
but what are they trying to tell me?” So one day, I decided
I would start eating apples. I ate them in the morning, at lunch,
during class, in the hall. Kids began to give me apples. The’d see me eating them
and say, “You’re eating an apple!” “I know!” They would smile, and I would smile back. It wasn’t until I understood
that kids wanted to see me as somebody who is willing
to receive a gift from them, that the apple was a symbol
for our relationship. There was goodness in that, and trust. But for a long time, I wasn’t listening
and I hadn’t understood this. [A great teacher is chill] They have their own language. When they say, “A great teacher is chill,” what they really mean is:
“Don’t take it too serious. Be calm in all situations.
Don’t get overwhelmed.” (Laughter) They have a way of speaking to us
about what they really want to tell us, but we have to listen. Right? I’m the father of two grown kids. They’re out of school now and in college. But when they were at home
and they were teenagers, I had to learn a whole new language. When they would come home
from school, I might ask them: “How was your day?”
and they would say, “Fine,” which usually meant:
“It was not bad. It was pretty good. Nothing happened eventful. I probably learned something.
Maybe I didn’t.” But if they came home
and said, “Fine,” what they meant was: “It wasn’t really great, but don’t ask me,
because you wouldn’t understand anyways.” If I asked them how their day was
and they said “OK,” what they were trying to tell me was:
“It wasn’t good at at all, and you should probably
ask me more questions, but don’t expect me to answer.” (Laughter) Kids have their own language;
they have their own way of thinking. They want us to think like them and understand
what’s inside of their head. They have so many ways
of thinking that things are great. They want us to see
their world inside of them. But they don’t want us to act like them; they want us to be calm
and protect them and keep them safe. Kids have a way of communicating, and adults just haven’t spent
the time listening. But what if we did? What if we really listen
deeply to students? One of the things I noticed after all the years
of collecting these responses is that there is patterns that emerge. When I asked the question
of what makes a good teacher great, oftentimes I heard,
“A great teacher loves to teach.” 70 percent of the time, the quote
or the answer that followed was: “A great teacher loves to learn.” The reason this is significant
is they don’t see this happening. They don’t see teachers
learning in front of them. They see them teaching, but they wish they would learn
along with them. Think about it. Principals hire teachers
to be content experts, to have all of the knowledge,
not to be learners. But what if they did? What if you showed up in the classroom,
and the teacher had something prepared, said, “I don’t know exactly
what we’re going to do today, but I can’t wait to learn with you.” Or that they saw their teacher struggle through something
they didn’t actually know and then eventually discover the answer. Kids want to be inspired by this idea
that learning is important. But they don’t see it in schools. [A great teacher isn’t a teacher] When I saw this quote:
“A great teacher isn’t a teacher,” I actually was a little bit offended. “What do you mean?! I’m a teacher!” They’re like, “We know.” What they were trying to tell me is: a great teacher isn’t in the classroom. Think about it. Think about a time that you have
some enduring understanding, a time when you learned something that you still remember
and you use to this day, like throwing a baseball or riding a bike. I remember learning
to ride a bike from my mom when I was five years old. She took off the training
wheels of my bike, she got behind me, and began to push. And we ran, and we ran, until she finally let go,
and I began to ride a bike. That’s what I did;
that’s how I learned to ride a bike. I can still ride a bike to this day
from that moment. But can you imagine if I tried to learn
to bike from my mom in a classroom, what it would look like? [Copy this
Bike riding 101] (Laughter) “Son, first, you need to learn
all the parts of a bike. There’s the pedals and the crank,
and there’s a chain that turns the wheel. You have to have a significant force; once the force has enough momentum,
you can keep your balance. That’s how a bike works. I want you to learn all the parts,
be able to label them and draw them. Then you’re going to learn
and write a research paper about the history of bike riding. (Laughter) All the important elements,
the adventure, the development of bikes. And at the end of that,
you’re going to take a final examination. If you pass and get an A,
you can ride a bike. (laughter) At five years old,
I think I would’ve said, “Never mind, I’ll just walk.” (Laughter) This is exactly what we do to children. We put them in a classroom and tell them, “This is what I want you to learn.
It’s important. Do it.” And kids know that it’s not true, that we don’t really value
learning this way. So no wonder they’re disruptive,
or bored, or disengaged. Kids want us to be teachers
that aren’t teachers. I want to tell you a story about Yvette. “A great teacher understands
that they have a life outside of school.” They really do. They want us to know
that their life in school is way more different
than the life outside of school. I just thought, “Well,
how hard is your life? Your job is to do school;
my job is to teach.” Yvette was a tough student, She was feisty, and she had
an infamous reputation. She walked around
with a jacket to prove it. Whenever she walked around,
the kids would follow. She would come in and sit
in the front row and lean just so that she can have
eye contact to intimidate me. She would call me “mister”
and not even use my full name. When she’d get up to go to the bathroom,
all the girls would follow. Eventually, I learnt from Yvette
what she needed to learn. And I thought I became
pretty good at what I was doing. I noticed one day, she stopped
turning in her homework. She had become a great leader
in the classroom: she turned in her homework,
she participated in class; she actually was quite good. So when this happened,
I was surprised. So I went up to her and said,
“Yvette, I’m very disappointed in you.” She said, “I know mister; I’m sorry.” “I expect it turned in tomorrow.” Tomorrow came, and just a few sheets
of unfinished work were turned in. I also went up to her and said,
“Yvette, this is disappointing.” She said, “I normally do
my homework in the bathroom because it’s the quietest
place in my house, but this week the electricity
was turned off, and it’s dark in there. I had a candle, but it burned out. And I’m sorry.” She gazed down, not her prideful self. I had missed the point. I had not listened when she said,
“I’m trying, mister.” I heard the words, but I didn’t listen. Great teachers notice
when there’s a struggle. They don’t make assumptions
about what kids can and cannot do. They wait and watch,
and they rescue them when they’re stuck. Good teachers hear them,
but they don’t listen. I’ll never forget Yvette,
and I’m grateful because whenever I see
an answer of a student like that, I remember her, and I listen. [A great teacher sings] This was the most perplexing answer
I think I ever received. It happened every year for ten years;
at least one student would put this. “A great teacher sings.” What are they talking about? I can’t sing. So I started thinking,
“Wait a second. What do they mean?” It wasn’t until Danny turned it in
as one of his responses. He was the class clown. You know he was the one
that when we took the class picture, he put ear fingers behind your head. He would make faces
at me during lectures so I would laugh. Everything was a joke to Danny. So, when he turned in his responses, and they were all serious
and actually really good, I was surprised when this
showed up in the middle. But I knew there was something to it;
I just didn’t know what. So the next day,
I put the agenda on the board, listing all the activities of the day,
the expectations, and the homework. And instead of actually reading them,
very seriously, I sang, (Laughter) in an operatic style, big as I could. The eyes of the students were wide,
their mouths dropped. (Laughter) But you know what happened
at the end of that? I expected pointing and laughing. But the classroom erupted
in cheers and applause. There was a standing ovation. I could not believe it. At the end of class, they walked out,
gave me high fives and handshakes, and here came Danny. He walked in, and he leaned in,
and patted me on the shoulder, and said, “I told you a great teacher sings.” (Laughter) (Applause) Great teachers make themselves
humble before their students. They take risks. They put aside their fear to try. They trust that they are going
to be supported if they fail. But they don’t see this;
they see experts, remember? Content experts. What if we hire teachers not to be deep understanders
of content, knowledge keepers, but deep understanders of students? How our schools
would change and transform? But it’s no wonder students don’t care
or that teachers don’t really listen. Because they have never been taught. But what if we did listen? You see, we spend three years
of a student’s life, teaching students to read. About 12 years of those students’ lives,
teaching them to write. Maybe if they’re lucky,
they get a semester or half a year learning to public speak. But they get virtual zero years
of formal listening instruction. Zero. Think about it. When was the last time
you were at a dinner party, and someone asked a question:
“So what do you do for a living?” and the response was,
“Oh, I’m a listening teacher. I teach advanced listening
at the high school events, listening communications,
or beginning listener for elementary?” We don’t hear this. Because we just don’t believe
that in schools it’s important, though in the world, listening is one of the number one skills
essential for business and life. And we just don’t teach it. We need to listen to our students. In our classrooms are the future. The Maya Angelous, the Mother Theresas,
the Elon Musks of the world. And can you imagine if we took the time to ask those students,
“What would make a good teacher great?” and then we actually listened, we could transform schools and education. Thank you. (Applause)