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  • Translator: Kesmat El Deeb Reviewer: Riaki Poništ

  • I'm obsessed with the question:

  • "What makes a good teacher great?"

  • I've collected 26,000 responses to this question,

  • in eight different schools,

  • from the poorest schools in Los Angeles,

  • to suburban schools in Texas, to elite private schools abroad.

  • And after 24 years of teaching students,

  • I'm still perplexed by this question.

  • Today, I'm going to teach you

  • the lessons I learned from those thousands of students,

  • and learn what I found out from them if we just listen to students.

  • The thing about it is

  • that during my time of asking kids this question,

  • I realized that we don't ask this question for a particular reason:

  • schools are afraid.

  • Based on fear, they don't really want to know what kids think.

  • Partially because they don't think kids will take it serious.

  • I'm going to share with you one of the most profound quotes,

  • answers to this question that I've ever received.

  • [A great teacher eats apples]

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, I know what you're thinking.

  • Doesn't this prove my point?

  • "Great teachers eat apples."

  • When I first saw this, I dismissed it as silliness,

  • but it appeared again and again.

  • So I thought,

  • "There's got to be something to this, but what are they trying to tell me?"

  • So one day, I decided I would start eating apples.

  • I ate them in the morning, at lunch, during class, in the hall.

  • Kids began to give me apples.

  • The'd see me eating them and say, "You're eating an apple!"

  • "I know!"

  • They would smile, and I would smile back.

  • It wasn't until I understood that kids wanted to see me

  • as somebody who is willing to receive a gift from them,

  • that the apple was a symbol for our relationship.

  • There was goodness in that, and trust.

  • But for a long time, I wasn't listening and I hadn't understood this.

  • [A great teacher is chill]

  • They have their own language.

  • When they say, "A great teacher is chill,"

  • what they really mean is: "Don't take it too serious.

  • Be calm in all situations. Don't get overwhelmed."

  • (Laughter)

  • They have a way of speaking to us about what they really want to tell us,

  • but we have to listen.

  • Right?

  • I'm the father of two grown kids.

  • They're out of school now and in college.

  • But when they were at home and they were teenagers,

  • I had to learn a whole new language.

  • When they would come home from school, I might ask them:

  • "How was your day?" and they would say, "Fine,"

  • which usually meant: "It was not bad. It was pretty good.

  • Nothing happened eventful.

  • I probably learned something. Maybe I didn't."

  • But if they came home and said, "Fine," what they meant was:

  • "It wasn't really great, but don't ask me, because you wouldn't understand anyways."

  • If I asked them how their day was and they said "OK,"

  • what they were trying to tell me was: "It wasn't good at at all,

  • and you should probably ask me more questions,

  • but don't expect me to answer."

  • (Laughter)

  • Kids have their own language; they have their own way of thinking.

  • They want us to think like them

  • and understand what's inside of their head.

  • They have so many ways of thinking that things are great.

  • They want us to see their world inside of them.

  • But they don't want us to act like them;

  • they want us to be calm and protect them and keep them safe.

  • Kids have a way of communicating,

  • and adults just haven't spent the time listening.

  • But what if we did?

  • What if we really listen deeply to students?

  • One of the things I noticed

  • after all the years of collecting these responses

  • is that there is patterns that emerge.

  • When I asked the question of what makes a good teacher great,

  • oftentimes I heard, "A great teacher loves to teach."

  • 70 percent of the time, the quote or the answer that followed was:

  • "A great teacher loves to learn."

  • The reason this is significant is they don't see this happening.

  • They don't see teachers learning in front of them.

  • They see them teaching,

  • but they wish they would learn along with them.

  • Think about it.

  • Principals hire teachers to be content experts,

  • to have all of the knowledge, not to be learners.

  • But what if they did?

  • What if you showed up in the classroom, and the teacher had something prepared,

  • said, "I don't know exactly what we're going to do today,

  • but I can't wait to learn with you."

  • Or that they saw their teacher struggle

  • through something they didn't actually know

  • and then eventually discover the answer.

  • Kids want to be inspired by this idea that learning is important.

  • But they don't see it in schools.

  • [A great teacher isn't a teacher]

  • When I saw this quote: "A great teacher isn't a teacher,"

  • I actually was a little bit offended.

  • "What do you mean?! I'm a teacher!"

  • They're like, "We know."

  • What they were trying to tell me is:

  • a great teacher isn't in the classroom.

  • Think about it.

  • Think about a time that you have some enduring understanding,

  • a time when you learned something

  • that you still remember and you use to this day,

  • like throwing a baseball or riding a bike.

  • I remember learning to ride a bike from my mom

  • when I was five years old.

  • She took off the training wheels of my bike,

  • she got behind me, and began to push.

  • And we ran, and we ran,

  • until she finally let go, and I began to ride a bike.

  • That's what I did; that's how I learned to ride a bike.

  • I can still ride a bike to this day from that moment.

  • But can you imagine if I tried to learn to bike from my mom in a classroom,

  • what it would look like?

  • [Copy this Bike riding 101]

  • (Laughter)

  • "Son, first, you need to learn all the parts of a bike.

  • There's the pedals and the crank, and there's a chain that turns the wheel.

  • You have to have a significant force;

  • once the force has enough momentum, you can keep your balance.

  • That's how a bike works.

  • I want you to learn all the parts, be able to label them and draw them.

  • Then you're going to learn and write a research paper

  • about the history of bike riding.

  • (Laughter)

  • All the important elements, the adventure, the development of bikes.

  • And at the end of that, you're going to take a final examination.

  • If you pass and get an A, you can ride a bike.

  • (laughter)

  • At five years old, I think I would've said,

  • "Never mind, I'll just walk."

  • (Laughter)

  • This is exactly what we do to children.

  • We put them in a classroom and tell them,

  • "This is what I want you to learn. It's important. Do it."

  • And kids know that it's not true,

  • that we don't really value learning this way.

  • So no wonder they're disruptive, or bored, or disengaged.

  • Kids want us to be teachers that aren't teachers.

  • I want to tell you a story about Yvette.

  • "A great teacher understands that they have a life outside of school."

  • They really do.

  • They want us to know that their life in school

  • is way more different than the life outside of school.

  • I just thought, "Well, how hard is your life?

  • Your job is to do school; my job is to teach."

  • Yvette was a tough student,

  • She was feisty, and she had an infamous reputation.

  • She walked around with a jacket to prove it.

  • Whenever she walked around, the kids would follow.

  • She would come in and sit in the front row and lean

  • just so that she can have eye contact to intimidate me.

  • She would call me "mister" and not even use my full name.

  • When she'd get up to go to the bathroom, all the girls would follow.

  • Eventually, I learnt from Yvette what she needed to learn.

  • And I thought I became pretty good at what I was doing.

  • I noticed one day, she stopped turning in her homework.

  • She had become a great leader in the classroom:

  • she turned in her homework, she participated in class;

  • she actually was quite good.

  • So when this happened, I was surprised.

  • So I went up to her and said, "Yvette, I'm very disappointed in you."

  • She said, "I know mister; I'm sorry."

  • "I expect it turned in tomorrow."

  • Tomorrow came, and just a few sheets of unfinished work were turned in.

  • I also went up to her and said, "Yvette, this is disappointing."

  • She said, "I normally do my homework in the bathroom

  • because it's the quietest place in my house,

  • but this week the electricity was turned off, and it's dark in there.

  • I had a candle, but it burned out.

  • And I'm sorry."

  • She gazed down, not her prideful self.

  • I had missed the point.

  • I had not listened when she said, "I'm trying, mister."

  • I heard the words, but I didn't listen.

  • Great teachers notice when there's a struggle.

  • They don't make assumptions about what kids can and cannot do.

  • They wait and watch, and they rescue them when they're stuck.

  • Good teachers hear them, but they don't listen.

  • I'll never forget Yvette, and I'm grateful

  • because whenever I see an answer of a student like that,

  • I remember her, and I listen.

  • [A great teacher sings]

  • This was the most perplexing answer I think I ever received.

  • It happened every year for ten years; at least one student would put this.

  • "A great teacher sings."

  • What are they talking about?

  • I can't sing.

  • So I started thinking, "Wait a second. What do they mean?"

  • It wasn't until Danny turned it in as one of his responses.

  • He was the class clown.

  • You know he was the one that when we took the class picture,

  • he put ear fingers behind your head.

  • He would make faces at me during lectures

  • so I would laugh.

  • Everything was a joke to Danny.

  • So, when he turned in his responses,

  • and they were all serious and actually really good,

  • I was surprised when this showed up in the middle.

  • But I knew there was something to it; I just didn't know what.

  • So the next day, I put the agenda on the board,

  • listing all the activities of the day, the expectations, and the homework.

  • And instead of actually reading them, very seriously, I sang,

  • (Laughter)

  • in an operatic style, big as I could.

  • The eyes of the students were wide, their mouths dropped.

  • (Laughter)

  • But you know what happened at the end of that?

  • I expected pointing and laughing.

  • But the classroom erupted in cheers and applause.

  • There was a standing ovation.

  • I could not believe it.

  • At the end of class, they walked out, gave me high fives and handshakes,

  • and here came Danny.

  • He walked in, and he leaned in, and patted me on the shoulder, and said,

  • "I told you a great teacher sings."

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Great teachers make themselves humble before their students.

  • They take risks.

  • They put aside their fear to try.

  • They trust that they are going to be supported if they fail.

  • But they don't see this; they see experts, remember?

  • Content experts.

  • What if we hire teachers

  • not to be deep understanders of content, knowledge keepers,

  • but deep understanders of students?

  • How our schools would change and transform?

  • But it's no wonder students don't care or that teachers don't really listen.

  • Because they have never been taught.

  • But what if we did listen?

  • You see, we spend three years of a student's life,

  • teaching students to read.

  • About 12 years of those students' lives, teaching them to write.

  • Maybe if they're lucky, they get a semester or half a year

  • learning to public speak.

  • But they get virtual zero years of formal listening instruction.

  • Zero.

  • Think about it.

  • When was the last time you were at a dinner party,

  • and someone asked a question: "So what do you do for a living?"

  • and the response was, "Oh, I'm a listening teacher.

  • I teach advanced listening at the high school events,

  • listening communications, or beginning listener for elementary?"

  • We don't hear this.