What do teachers really want?


Maybe, but flattery will work better. Seriously.

The highest and most effective form of teacher flattery is asking a teacher for help. The next highest is actually doing your work. You meet teacher expectations, you get an A. Easy enough.

Well, let’s start from there, anyway.  So what do teachers really want? And how can the student figure that out?

The Syllabus

It’s a rare syllabus that actually sets expectations. (See our post Due consideration, and not just a syllabus.) With a few exceptions, these documents mean little to the actual progression of a class over the school year. The learning outcomes, the rules, and the office hours will invariably change according to the ins and outs of the weather, school events, and the flow of the class itself. A syllabus should be a working document, but usually it is not.

Still, even with the simplest of syllabi, your teacher wrote the it and put his or her personality and general point of view into it. It’s your contract with the teacher and you should pay attention to it.

YCDWTTWYTDIYDKWTTWYTD (teacher expectations and assignment tracking)

When we speak to kids about their grades, a first question is always, so what’s due today? “Uhhh…” Well, that’s why they’re talking to us, but it’s a core issue for any student: do you know what’s due today when you walk into the classroom?

If you don’t, you’re not going to know what the teacher is doing that day. If you don’t know what your teacher is doing today, then you’re going to be even more lost tomorrow.  Sure, there’s always late work, and it’s better to get it done rather than not. However, awareness = success. No awareness, no success. Our A+ Club program is designed to raise student awareness, freeing them to act on their ongoing academic responsibilities rather than constantly chasing down the ones from last week or last month.

YCDWTTWYTDIYDKWTTWYTD: You can’t do what the teacher wants you to do if you don’t know what the teacher wants you to do.

If you don’t already know it, how can I teach you?

My 10th grade history teacher, way be in the 1970s, used to complain to us about this all the time. We thought it was absurd. Truth is, he was dead-on right about it.

Today, we call it “prior knowledge.” You can only learn something new if you already know something about the new learning. Addition is needed for multiplication, which are needed for fractions, which are needed for algebra, and so on. Vocabulary is needed for reading comprehension and so on.

During class, your teacher establishes learning expectations and assigns “independent” work whereby you practice what the teacher wants you to learn. It’s your job as the student to identify what it is you need to know — prior knowledge — and use in order to learn the lesson.

If you didn’t do the work your teacher assigned, then you are likely to have no idea what the teacher is saying or expecting of you. How can the teacher discuss last night’s homework if the students didn’t do the work? Dear Mr. Walsh, my 10th grade History teacher was right: if we didn’t do the reading the night before, we weren’t ready to learn. Students must identify and build the Prior Knowledge they need in order to engage the learning expected of them.

See our post PK, relevancy & teacher expectations for more on this concept.

Boring (pronounced “bo-o-o-ring”)

It’s boring if you have no idea what the teacher is saying. It’s interesting if it’s something you already know. Very simple. Think it over in your next class that you find “boring” and compare it to a more interesting class. It’s interesting and fun if you already know about it. It’s boring if you know nothing about it. Works with movies, music, and friendship. Boring to one person is fascinating to another.

It’s up to you, the student, to figure out how to make that “boring” class interesting. Here’s my guarantee: if you are learning it will be less boring. It may not be less tedious — but it will always be more relevant and easier if you are learning. Next time you say “boring” — change that to “not learning” and do something about it.

If you already know it and you find it boring because you’re learning nothing new, then you’ve got an entirely different kind of problem, namely, you don’t belong in that class. So you’d better start figuring out why you’re there and how to avoid being in a class like that next time. If you know the material and you’ve still got bad grades: it’s you, not the teacher.

Act up or get with it?

Students who don’t know what the teacher is doing or talking about are in for a miserable time. Act up, act down, zone out, head down. None of these things will make class any more tolerable. Perhaps it’s more fun to talk to your neighbor, but then who are you going to blame when your grades come out?

“That class is boring” or “I hate that teacher” is an excuse not a reason. You’re not going fire that teacher, and you can’t change your schedule. Blaming the teacher all day and night won’t change your grades.

So what can you do when you just have a bad teacher, a boring teacher, a difficult class, or you just don’t get it?

Here’s the short list and it’s a non-negotiable:

  1. Ask your teacher what you’re supposed to be doing.
  2. Then do it.
  3. And keep doing it.
  4. Ask your teacher more questions about it.
  5. Watch you grades go up.

Questioning teacher = using teacher for your own benefit

In our work with students and their teachers across many different schools, one thing keeps coming back to us about what kids can do to improve in their class: ASK QUESTIONS!

It’s no fun to be the one the teacher picks out to answer a question, and it’s no fun to feel dumb asking a question in front of other students. But if you don’t ask the teacher what you need, how is the teacher to know it?

Teachers tell us all the time that kids need to ask for help. Identify, clarify, and figure it out. That’s what your teacher is for, so get busy with it. If you don’t, you teacher will just assume you don’t know, didn’t prepare, and don’t care. As the question and you show that you care. Ask the question and your teacher will help you prepare and help you know. Questions clarify and above all else, asking a question puts you in front of your teacher and forces them to think and worry about you.

If you ask the question, the teacher is now working for and not against you. Put ’em to work!

I always told my students that the easiest grade for me to put in my book is a “zero.” No effort on my part. You want to punish me, do your work. Then I have to consider you, figure you out, work to help you.

What do teachers really want: they just want you to engage. Flatter ’em by asking what you need to be doing and by starting a positive process of improvement and meeting teacher expectations. Everyone’s life will be better for it. Guaranteed.

– Michael