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What Do We Want from Our Students?
What Do Our Students Want from Us?



Bruce Oliver

Bruce Oliver, the author of Just for the ASKing!, lives in Burke, Virginia. He uses the knowledge, skills, and experience he acquired as a teacher, professional developer, mentor, and middle school principal as he works with school districts across the nation. Bruce has written more than 150 issues of Just for the ASKing!  He is the author of Points to Ponder and co-author of Creating a Culture for Learning: Your Guide to PLCs and More.

As we move forward with this new school year, two important questions that come to mind as we contemplate social-emotional learning, educating the whole child, and promoting empathy and civility are: What do we want from our students? and What do our students want from us?

As we made introductory remarks to classes, we no doubt laid out expectations and requirements. What we may not do as frequently is reveal more personal feelings about what we hope students will do as the year unfolds. Although course and subject specifications are important, students may tune in more earnestly when we reveal true, below -the -surface thoughts about what we want from them. We can not only convey these feelings in specific words but through our actions and behavior. Here are some important messages to consider sending to students:

  • Don’t judge me based on your past experiences in school, especially if you have had some unpleasant occurrences; Each year is a new beginning and I want this to be your best year ever.
  • Be honest with me. Let me know if I am going too fast, if I am overwhelming you, or if I am not being clear enough. I will give you opportunities to let me know how you are feeling as we go through our year together.
  • All teachers want respect from their students. I am not different. I understand that respect does not happen automatically. I will do what I think is necessary to earn your respect. Give me a chance.
  • Let me into your life so I can better understand you. I will be sharing things about my life so you have a better idea about who I am as a person and not just your teacher. It is so important that we better understand one another.
  • I will be giving you feedback on your work on a regular basis. I do not expect you to automatically learn what I am teaching. I will also give you multiple opportunities to reach a mastery learning level which will best happen when I provide feedback for you. Please take my thoughts seriously and apply my guidance to your work.
  • Always give me your best effort. I am a realist and I know that you may struggle sometimes. I know that struggle is a part of the learning process for many people. You will truly earn my admiration and respect when you don’t give up and you show me a strong work ethic.
  • I know you are not perfect and neither am I. We are both allowed to make mistakes and rebound from them. We are both human.
  • Some of my favorite past students are those who pushed themselves beyond their comfort level. Some of your best learning will happen when you are challenging yourself.
  • Don’t forget….we are both teachers. I want to learn from you. You know things I may not know as much about as you do, especially in the area of technology.
  • One lesson that will be a part of your year is the importance of being able to adapt to new situations. Dealing with new ideas or unexpected circumstances will be an essential part of your future life. The future is unknown. I want you to learn how to adjust while you are still young.
  • I want you to be an independent thinker. It is all right for you to disagree with me. Let’s learn to be able to disagree in a respectful manner. I will be giving you opportunities to learn how to do it.
  • I am a strong believer in the importance of kindness. I will be kind to you and I hope you will show me kindness as well. But I also want you to be kind to everyone else in our class. My goal is to be a model of how to show courtesy, graciousness, consideration and thoughtfulness to each and every one of you.
  • All of us will have bad days. I will not let it affect my true feelings toward you; I want you to afford me the same consideration. Do not let a bad day reshape our relationship.
  • Give me your honest attention when I am teaching. I will do my best to make learning interesting and even fun, and I will give you plenty of opportunities to interact with your fellow students as part of your learning experience.

Equally important as divulging our expectations and desires for the young people we are charged with teaching is for us to understand what students want from us. Some teachers ask their learners to complete a piece of writing in which they disclose their desires for the year. Typically they write that they want their teacher to be “nice” and “make learning fun.” But students rarely reveal their innermost thoughts because they can’t find the right words to express their thoughts, or they do not want to divulge personal details about themselves. Their hopes and anticipations for what they want from their teacher are still there below the surface. Below are some of the things students want their teachers to know even though they may not be able to express their thoughts.

  • Try to understand the environment I come from. Sometimes I am sad, sometimes I am hungry. I have experienced some chaotic situations you may not know about.
    Just because I may lack some academic skills does not mean I cannot think. Be patient with me… give me a chance.
  • When you can connect learning to the reality I come from, I can understand it better.
  • Be friendly with me when you see me outside of class. It means a lot to me when you smile and call me by my name.
  • Give me more that one chance to show you what I have learned. When you go over my work with me and explain how I can improve, I promise to hear you out and try harder.
  • When you introduce new ideas to us, go slowly, provide examples, and give us a chance to talk about what you are teaching with a fellow student or a small group.
    Let me show you what I have learned in different ways. Maybe I can show you or tell you what I know instead of taking a written test.
  • Even though it may not seem like it, I really do want to listen and learn. Sometimes I have to move around because I can’t sit still for long periods of time.
  • No matter what, please don’t take away my recess. I need to get some exercise to make my brain work better.
  • Treat me like an individual not like a number. I am a real person with real feelings.
  • Please don’t pile on the homework; the best homework is the kind I can do by myself without the help of my mom and dad.
  • Be real. Tell us stories about yourself when you were a student.
  • Surprise us by doing something unexpected that will amaze us or even make us laugh. I may need some laughter in my life.
  • Please don’t embarrass me in front of the class by asking me to do something I don’t know how to do.
  • I like a lot of pictures and words all around the classroom. These things help me remember longer.
  • Meet me where I am with my learning. If you are so far ahead with things I do not understand, I may never catch up.
  • I don’t want my learning to be a single grade on an assignment. Explicitly recognize my progress and effort.
  • When you are teaching us, stop every once in a while and ask some specific questions to see if we are with you. If you wait too long, we may be overwhelmed and lost.
  • Remember the importance of treating everyone with kindness. When you show us how much you care, we will learn to be nice to other people.
  • Show me how to set learning goals for myself. When I know what my target is, I will work harder to reach it.
  • As the year goes on, get to know me as a person, not just a student. I want you to be someone I can go to when I have a problem that goes beyond school.
  • I may not always say thank you but I am always grateful for the little things you do to make my day better.
  • When you are teaching us, tell us lots of stories. This will help me remember what you taught.
  • I like it when you sometimes make a mistake. Then I don’t feel so bad when I do something wrong or make an error.
  • Sometimes learning is easy for me. I like it when you challenge me to think more deeply.
  • Help me to use my imagination and be creative. I like it when I succeed at things I did not know I was capable of doing.
  • I want you to teach us in different ways. Lectures may be hard to follow or to keep up with. PowerPoints can also be overwhelming and used by almost all of our teachers.
  • Give me time to let new learning sink in. Let me think, reflect, and process.
  • Encourage me to speak up even though it may move me out of my comfort zone. I need to learn how to express myself in words. It may be easier for me to speak up in pairs or small groups until I get used to doing so.

I hope these suggestions encourage you to dig more deeply inside yourself and realize that periodically sharing personal experiences and beliefs will help students learn to trust and believe in you.. Contemplating thoughts that students are likely to have promotes our understanding that there is much more going on inside young people than they explicitly express. They may never articulate their true feelings, perhaps because they have not yet developed the language to capture and communicate them. When we ponder and act on such points, all of us, teachers and learners alike, will be more successful.




Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “What Do We Want from Our Students? What Do Our Students Want from Us?”  Just for the ASKing! September 2018. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. © 2018. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.