Mr. Terronez has received over 26,000 student responses from eight very different schools, “from the poorer schools in Los Angeles, to suburban schools in Texas, to elite private schools abroad,” and still is contemplating the best answer to this question.
Some students replied that “a great teacher eats apples,” so Mr. Terronez started to eat apples. As he began eating apples for breakfast, between classes, in the hallways, the students “would smile, and I would smile back. It wasn’t until I understood that kids wanted to see me as someone who was willing to receive a gift from them. That the apple was a symbol for our relationship. There was goodness in that, and trust.”
Several students said that “a great teacher sings,” and so one day, Mr. Terronez sang his agenda for the day, operatic-style. “The classroom erupted in cheers and applause,” and one student, on his way out of class, put his hand on Mr. Terronez’s shoulder and said, “I told you a great teacher sings.” Mr. Terronez demonstrates how great teachers can, and should, “make themselves humble before their students,” by taking risks and putting aside “their fear to try.”
Overall, Mr. Terronez concludes that students want teachers who listen. According to Mr. Terronez, children have “a way of communicating, and adults haven’t spent the time listening.” He recalls a struggling student who often challenged him, but always completed the work in class. One day, this student stopped turning in homework. Mr. Terronez approached the student about the missing homework, to which the student replied, “I’m trying.” Days passed and the homework showed up, half-completed. Mr. Terronez spoke with the student again and the student explained, “I normally do my homework in the bathroom because it is 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 burnt out and I’m sorry.” Mr. Terronez heard the student say “I’m trying,” but he forgot to listen.
So, what makes a good teacher great?
“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.” Mr. Terronez encourages all teachers to become active listeners, to engage with their students beyond the classroom doors, and to take more risks in the classroom. Most importantly, Mr. Terronez wants teachers to ask their students “What makes a good teacher great?” and to listen, not just hear, the answer.
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-Melissa Hoppie, Graduate Student Researcher