One thing that will never change about school is the importance of popularity. It’s too bad, but it’s true.
Worse still, teachers aren’t immune to the popularity contests perpetuated by students. Wanting to get a better understanding of what makes certain teachers more favorable than others, the Paper team went straight to the source and asked students to tell us about favorite teachers.
Of course, we had some preconceived notions about what students might look for in their favorite teachers from our own experience as students. But, after reading through over 1000 responses from students at our partner districts, we were surprised by the results.
Keep scrolling to find out what students had to say about their favorite teachers and maybe pick up a tip or two to win over your students.
1. For Love, Not Money
What’s the best way to earn your students’ respect? Make it clear to them that you didn’t get into education because it’s so lucrative, you teach because you’re passionate about it. In reality, we know that the number of teachers who do what they do for the big fat paycheck are probably few and far between. But 72 students who replied to our query specifically said that their favorite teachers teach because they love it, not just because they love the money.
“He isn't motivated to teach from his desire to earn money, rather he teaches because he loves it”
If any of your students are thinking about becoming teachers for the money, you might want to tell them to measure their expectations.
2. Microwave Access?
We adults take so many luxuries for granted. Luxuries like permission to use the bathroom whenever we want or the chance to reheat last night’s dinner. Certain students in California, about 43 to be precise, explained that their favorite teachers were the ones that occasionally let them use the microwave.
“She’s always helping me on chem when I needed help and she let us microwave things.”
Sometimes it’s simple pleasures that make all the difference.
3. Knowing Your Audience
A common theme among the students’ submissions was a teacher’s sense of humor. Teachers the students described as funny received an overwhelming amount of shoutouts. But being funny can only take you so far. What they really love is when funny teachers understand that a sense of humor is an extremely personal thing and that not everyone appreciates the same kind of jokes.
“He brings humor to the classroom and if you don’t like his humor, you can talk to him about it and he won’t direct it towards you again.”
Sage advice not just for teachers trying to win over their students but for everyone everywhere.
4. Having Other Responsibilities
To our surprise, students today are remarkably understanding of teachers with commitments beyond the classroom. In their responses, if one of their favorite teachers had a newborn or young children at home, they would always make sure to note how much they admired those teachers who had more to balance.
“She has to balance her little daughter at home and yet still makes amazing video lectures for us every week.”
We don’t recall students having this level of empathy for their teachers when we were growing up, which must mean teachers today are doing something right.
5. Doesn’t Care About Homework (But it’s Not What You Think!)
Congratulations to the Paper team for this groundbreaking discovery: students love teachers who don’t care about homework! Pack it up, folks, show’s over!
Look, we all knew this was coming. Of course everyone loves the teacher that doesn’t care about homework. But, based on the responses we received, it’s a little more nuanced than just no homework obligations means more time to make TikToks. One student put it best when they said:
“She is a really helpful teacher, and even if she knows that you don’t get work or homework done, she always will ask if you have it done because she really believes that it doesn’t matter to her if that’s just the way you are, she believes that maybe she’s made a difference or impact on your working habits.”
Admittedly, students will always have a soft spot for the teacher that doesn’t assign homework. But there is an overwhelming amount of students that really appreciate and respect those teachers who operate with the understanding that not everyone works the same. Rather than penalize the square pegs who fail to fit in the round holes, focus on the incremental improvements.
6. Life Lessons Over Lesson Plans
It’s hard to keep students engaged if they ever start to question whether or not what’s on the curriculum will serve them later in life. While we know there are invisible life lessons that shape how students’ ability to think within things that may seem irrelevant to their futures, students really appreciate teachers that make time for overt life lessons. Take, for example, this teacher who incorporated a Buddhist philosophy into his lesson plan.
“He taught our class, ‘mudita.'
Mudita means joy; the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being...This allows students to connect with each other…He once made a statement that really stuck to me and influenced me greatly. ‘Every day, every way, better, better better.’”
Students, by their own admission, gravitate towards teachers who make time for life lessons, even though in retrospect they’ll see everything you did, even the concepts that seemed trivial, was a part of their preparation.
7. Hey! Listen!
Students, particularly those who are older, crave independence. A lot of them have been told what to do, where to be, how to look, how to act, etc., without any input or say. So, when an authority figure like a teacher takes the time to hear them out, how can it not make a lasting impression?
“She goes above and beyond to listen to each student's problems even if it has nothing to do with her. She listens willingly and gives great advice to anyone who needs to hear it. She will help you or listen to you even if you are not in any of her classes or never have been.”
It’s such a simple gesture that it may be easy to forget it’s impact, but a good listener is what students crave in their teachers.
8. Availability is the Best Ability
If listening is a simple gesture that can make a huge impact on students, then this thing that students value most of all is even easier to achieve. All you have to do is show up and students will appreciate that. Don’t take our word for it, students said:
“Because she is always there for her students.”
“Because whenever I fall behind she is always there helping me out.”
“She’s always there for anyone who needs it.”
“He’s always there to answer any question no matter how trivial.”
“She cares for her students more like a mother than just a teacher. She is always there for her students when they need her and she always gives her everything to make sure she puts her best foot forwards.”
“She is always there when you need help and she answers any questions and encourages students to try and get good grades.”
“Even if she is in a bad mood or having a bad day, she doesn’t let that affect her teaching and continues to be excited for all her students, no matter who they are. She is always there for her students, no matter what!”
“She makes us feel welcome and she is always there to help!”
“He’s always trying to help every student learn new things and is always there for you if you need to talk about anything. He makes students laugh and smile each day he has a big heart and he is a great person.”
Over and over and over again, students cited some version of “always there” to describe their favorite teachers. So, let this be a reminder to all teachers reading this: just by virtue of being there, your students appreciate you.
Who supports teachers?
But even the best teachers need support in serving their students in ways that are scalable and sustainable, given the new realities of education. As teachers continue to be the front-line workers in classrooms (virtual or not) during the current crisis, empowered teachers are central to student success.
At Paper, we ensure that students get 24/7 one-on-one live help and essay feedback, to reinforce teachers’ instruction. Paper provides teachers with real-time feedback and intervention tools to identify student progress and learning needs.
Paper's tutoring platform does some of the heavy lifting in supporting students, so teachers can have a manageable workload and tailor their lessons based on student needs.
Founded in 2014, Paper is an Educational Support System (ESS) providing students with 24/7 live help & essay review, and teachers with real-time feedback and intervention tools. Paper partners with districts across North America to close the achievement gap and support educational equity.