The Unwritten Expectations of Great Teachers

When you become a public school teacher there are sets of rules and dictates you must abide by. There are laws. There are procedures. There are decrees. There are edicts. There is protocol.

And there are expectations.

When parents, students, voters, taxpayers, government officials, post-secondary institutions, and employers all have some sort of stake in the public education system, there are expectations involved, whether they are clearly defined or even obtainable.

In an election year like this one here in North Carolina, we are seeing an onslaught of “re-forming” efforts aimed at redefining public education that twenty years ago could not have been expected.

Testing, mandates, evaluation systems, salary “adjustments”, due-process removal, vouchers, charters, and lack of support have made the road to teaching and learning an uphill climb on an unnavigable path constantly being obstructed by those who view public schools from the outside.

And there are still those expectations.

Yet there are the expectations that great teachers place on themselves.

The teachers that I admire the most, the ones in whose classes I want my own kids to matriculate through, and the ones I try to emulate all abide by a set of expectations that define how they approach teaching the whole student.

Maybe you could define them as rules, laws, procedures, decrees, edicts, or whatever, but they define how master teachers view their profession.

And while they are unwritten, they are clearly etched in their actions and words. Furthermore, they help define the human aspect of the student/teacher relationship – the most important dynamic in the schooling.

  • Great teachers teach every child as if he/she can learn if given the right opportunities and the right instruction.
  • Great teachers teach every child in class no matter what religious creed he/she abides by and even those students who claim no religion or claim there is no god.
  • Great teachers teach every child in class no matter what sexual orientation or identity he/she has. A transgender student is as valued a member of my class as the star athlete.
  • Great teachers teach every child in class no matter what his/her family’s income is.
  • Great teachers teach every child in my class no matter what their nuclear family looks like or how they define themselves.
  • Great teachers teach every child in class no matter if his/her belief system is different than theirs, whether political, social, or religious.
  • Great teachers celebrate a student’s academic and personal growth.
  • Great teachers intercede on behalf of students to administration and guidance if they believe there is something else that can be done to help the student succeed.
  • Great teachers celebrate a student’s personal achievements outside of the classroom.
  • Great teachers listen to a student when he or she has a problem that affects his or her ability to learn. Then I will act on that information with the student’s best interest in mind.

But there are things that students must do as well. If not, the student/teacher relationship breaks down.

  • Students must be willing to learn and put forth the effort to succeed.
  • Students must be willing to advocate for themselves and ask questions when needed. They must seek opportunities to be tutored and get extra help if needed.
  • Students must be willing to let teachers and administrators know if there are obstacles in their way.
  • Students must show up physically and mentally.

Now, if the government spent more time removing obstacles that would allow for the student/teacher relationship to remain central in schooling and spent more resources outfitting the needs that schools identify, then there would be no talk of whether public school were meeting expectations.

In fact, we would be busy setting even higher ones.

But if the current climate of public schooling here in North Carolina remains as it is, we will lose those great teachers.

And we need them now more than ever.