In a quiet moment, just before the start of a lecture and completely out of nowhere, a student blurted out loudly, “Mr. Clumpner, you are the GREATEST TEACHER EVER!” I just smiled and said, “Yer darn right,” thinking that would be the end of it. But it started a chorus of students from that table listing out all the things I do that make me the “greatest teacher ever.” I completely understand the hyperbolic nature of the moment, but in reflection, there were some very valuable insights in the compliments the students gave me, so I thought I’d share a few of them that stood out.
“You always say hi to your students when you see them in the hall.”
“You understand that our life is hard and don’t make fun of us when we struggle.”
“You don’t get mad when we ask for help.”
“You seem to really like being here.”
Look at that list. There is no reference to all the stellar slideshows I put together for them, or the careful scaffolding I’ve built into our course, or the seamless integration of educational technology. They don’t even know about the considerable detail I put into filling out project plans or the color-coded inventory spreadsheets I have developed. None of the many pedagogical methods from the countless professional developments I have attended were even mentioned. Nope, none of that stood out to them. What they were most thankful for is that I smiled and said hello in the hallway that time I saw them.
This list tells me a lot about my students’ needs. It tells me that the most important pedagogical tool I have is compassion. My students enjoy coming to class and working in class because they know I care. They feel safe in seeking help to overcome obstacles because they know I will listen and help. They invest in my coursework because I let them know that they are important and what they do in my class is important. All the planning and pedagogy means nothing to these kids if they don’t believe that I am in it with them. And it makes sense. If I don’t value their presence in my class, why would they?
Another great thing about this list is that none of it is very hard. It doesn’t take much planning or research to wear a warm smile when I see my students. It doesn’t require filling out forms or administrator approval to listen with compassion when a student is struggling. There are no budget constraints to be considered when responding to students’ needs with kindness. There is nothing stopping all of us from being considered the “greatest teacher ever.”