Do skills + personality + drive + relationships make the grade?
“A teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, knowledge and wisdom in pupils,” proclaimed author and educator Ever Garrison.
During annual back-to-school periods, memories surface of how those teacher-inspired compasses and magnets still guide adulthood decisions. But, given today’s complex U.S. educational environment, what attributes do “good” teachers embody according to societal norms? And, what trends and factors are shaping current teachers? To get insight for Chesterfield Lifestyle readers into the definitions of “successful teachers,” we tapped into the expertise and opinions of several local education leaders.
“Expectations of teachers among themselves, parents and education managers regarding personalities and skills have changed a lot,” says Nera Perisic, program director of The Centre at Conway, a Chesterfield-based Montessori school for youths 14 months to 6 years old at 13725 Conway Road. While Nera says expectations from these stakeholders were the same in the past, they no longer are.
“Being able to adapt to children’s needs is the key,” she says. “It’s not always about which teachers are the most educated or best educated. Teachers who can be flexible and child-centric are the truly effective ones.”
One trend she believes challenges teachers is carving out time to be a combined educator, caregiver, manager and supervisor within a “me, me, me” society that emphasizes self-interests. As a result, she says sometimes teachers have to be nudged and trained how to be more understanding and compassionate of other perspectives.
“Teachers who have a plan B, C and D for supporting students, rather than just an A plan, are doing very well in today’s classrooms,” she says.
At Montessori schools, it’s imperative teachers establish invisible, guiding environments within which children lead learning; this approach requires frequent assessments, creativity, energy and fortitude, which can be daunting. She says after prospective teachers pass background checks, they are placed into an interactive “tryout session” to ensure teaching is a proper fit, as well as to see if they naturally take to schooling.
“Teaching is not a profession one goes into to make a lot of money; you go into it with your heart. It’s a way of living,” she says.
Nera says teachers should receive more praise and appreciation for being creative solution providers.
Kevin Beckner, Parkway School District assistant superintendent for teaching, learning and accountability, agrees it takes many elements for teachers to achieve consistent successes. He says Parkway especially searches for educators who are effective at prompting students to grow in individual curiosity.
“We seek teachers who are passionate about kids, and who will build cultures in their classrooms that make students show up and want to be there,” he says. “It’s the intangibles, such as teachers’ attitudes and dispositions, that kids remember and that parents value. We can teach teachers content and new strategies, but you can’t teach people to love kids.”
To be successful, he believes teachers also need to know how to work in teams and with diverse cultures and backgrounds.
He says one current challenge for some experienced educators is the frequency of communications anticipated from students, and even some parents.
“With social media, students are always ‘on,'” he says.
To this point, starting with this school year, he says the district no longer will require teachers to maintain “static” individual webpages, opting for new communications instead.
A second challenge for teachers, he says, lies in splitting limited preparation time between standardized tests details versus creating well-rounded students who are engaged, caring, thoughtful and more insightful.
“We want teachers to focus on our mission of students becoming capable, curious, confident and caring. But if test scores drop, teachers sense the pressure and then don’t feel as personally successful,” he says. “Sometimes, they feel like the expectation is for them to reach equally well for two different sets of goals.”
He says new teacher recognition programs are welcome perks. Some of the creative ways Parkway principals recognize teachers is to surprise them with selecting from a cart of goodies, which may include school supplies, food or other prizes. Another thoughtful recognition activity is some principals providing teachers the gift of time by taking over their class for a period.
He says there now are more staff-to-staff monthly recognitions.
“A teacher’s job is hard, and we want our teachers to feel we realize that,” he says.
Deemed a “top confidence-boosting leader” in the St. Louis region, Rockwood School District Superintendent Eric Knost focuses the district’s overall efforts on unity, excellence and relationships. When encouraging existing Rockwood teachers or recruiting new ones, he is guided by the district’s five goals: student learning, highly effective staff, school climate, district finance and governance.
He says Rockwood seeks teachers who hold themselves accountable.
“We’re all in this business for one reason, and that’s to help kids thrive in the world,” he says. “Kids need to know they matter to the adults in their lives, and they need to know we care.”
Earlier in his education career, Eric served as an administrative intern and band director. He believes his band-related team background still helps in directing and coaching teachers.
“Regardless of the position you hold in education, relationships are key,” he says. “I learned early in my career that creating the right culture in any situation is always the foundation for success.”
Among the dozen Chesterfield private schools, some with religious affiliations, serving approximately 1,535 students, the missions also are pupil success, proficiency and preparation to tackle life.
Incarnate Word School Principal Mike Welling says he believes in today’s impersonal world of gadgets, games and social media, students need teachers who truly enjoy teaching them.
“Teachers, of course, need to be professionally prepared and qualified, but they must also be willing, able and dedicated to daily improving their craft through interpersonal skills and classroom technology,” he says. “They must reach students by demonstrating genuine interest in their worlds.”
He says teachers right now are in unique positions to encourage parents to enjoy the present while raising children, rather than only worrying about future outcomes.
“I try to find teachers who will be models of patience, perseverance and confidence,” he says. “Those who will nurture a community of kindness and caring,” says the principal at 13416 Olive Blvd. “Because we are a Catholic school, our teachers strive to convey, in practical and personal everyday ways, the essential teaching of Jesus Christ: To love God above all and to love one another in the same way that God loves us. Our teachers do all they can to prepare our students for their futures in this world and their futures beyond.”
Seeing possibilities in every student, rather than problems and limitations, has been the mantra of 10-year-old Barat Academy at 17815 Wild Horse Creek Road. As president of the newest independent high school in Chesterfield, Debby Watson executed “Asset-Based Thinking” she coins as the “Learn Life” teaching model. It focuses on creating a positive, faith-oriented school culture, based on integrity and Catholic Sacred Heart traditions, along with customized teaching to launch students into becoming transformational persons in the world.
“Our teachers encourage students to love, learn, serve, build and grow,” she says. “We need teachers who can assist students spiritually, academically, socially and physically.”
Businesses want employees who are “lifetime learners,” so Debby says the academy’s teachers focus on retraining and updating themselves so they can help students propel in new ways.
“In schools, we’re only as good as the student-teacher experiences,” she says. “Our teachers take that seriously, and celebrate and support our students’ individualities.”
This innovative school leader says great schools make great communities, and great communities raise property values, increase economic development and provide great places of worship.
“Chesterfield has all these win-win elements happening,” she says. “We’re very fortunate.”