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Five Ways Good Teachers Change Lives

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In October, we surveyed GRTL subscribers about the adults who influenced them growing up. One question asked: "Think back on a teacher who had a significant positive influence on your life & share briefly about who this person was & what they did that influenced you."
 
Of the 464 survey respondents, 367 gave replies to this particular question. The stories were evenly spread throughout respondents' schooling years: there were stories of influential elementary teachers, college instructors, and every grade level in between.
 
How Adult Influencers Build Up Young People
 
Here in our office, Paige took all 367 responses and organized them. Whereas the stories of negative teachers were depressing and hard to read, these stories were delightful to see:

•    "She took time to listen to me. She asked about my plans and dreams and encouraged me to follow them."
•    "This professor gave me confidence to step out. Without his help, I would not have succeeded. I have now been in education for nearly 40 years."
•    "I got the feeling that he not only liked me but that he wanted me to succeed in everything I did."
•    "She had very high standards, but communicated them clearly and made me feel like I could live up to them."
•    "I was having a little trouble, so I pushed myself under a table in the classroom. Well, she pushed herself under the table with me. It just seemed like she would do anything for me. I loved her."
•    "My only memory of my fourth grade teacher was of him playing basketball with a few of us guys after school. It was meaningful because he willingly invested his time."
•    "Many of us would linger outside his classroom between classes. On some nights we'd drop by his house...girls & guys, football players & Key Club Sweethearts, just to chat. Mr. Grant cared about more than history--he cared about us."

These teachers' influence still makes a difference today: 45 respondents mentioned that things would be different today if it weren't for that teacher, and an incredible 35 stories directly credited the teacher with influencing their career path. One respondent flat out said: "His belief in me changed my life."
 
Five Themes: How Teachers Avoid Negativity and Make a Positive Difference
 
We expected to read more stories about brilliant educators who captivated students with their knowledge. However, actual teaching skill had little to do with the constructive actions our 367 respondents remembered. Here are the top five:

1.    Encouragement (66 respondents): These teachers encouraged their students, from "Come on, you can do it...you've got this!" to "Hey, I believe you can achieve more; give it your all!" Uplifting words made the difference.
2.    Support (65 respondents): The memorable teachers conveyed a belief that students could succeed. This went beyond encouraging words to crafting assignments to fit their needs, personal after-school tutoring, etc.
3.    Caring (56 respondents): These respondents knew the teachers cared about them and had the students' best interests in mind. Good teachers demonstrated liking, respect, and a desire for students to do well.
4.    Investment (51 respondents): These teachers went beyond the call of duty to invest in their students outside of the classroom and take an interest in their lives. They knew students personally, and this is what made the difference to the respondents.
5.    Challenge (44 respondents): These teachers set high standards and pushed students to excel, calling out the best from them. They didn't just raise the bar, though--they also knew how to help their students jump over it.

Other teachers were described as kind, patient listeners and were remembered for modeling the faith, being good examples, teaching passionately, helping students discover their strengths, and encouraging a love of learning.
 
Negative vs. Positive: Small Actions Yield Big Consequences

Interestingly, not one of the 367 responses mentioned a positive teacher who was easy. In fact, many of the positive teachers were noted for having been strict or firm. Yet two differences became clear: the positive influencers had (1) an attitude of expectation and (2) a willingness to exert slightly more effort on their students' behalf--often, a few minutes of a personal touch made all the difference.
 
The five constructive things teachers do are in many ways the inverse of the harmful actions described in our last newsletter:
 
Five harmful things                   Five constructive things
 Humiliation                                 Encouragement
 Devastation                               Support
 Indifference                               Caring
 Poor punishment                         Investment
 Anger                                       Challenge
 
The Bottom Line
 
What to do: speak uplifting words of blessing, let students know you're pulling for their success, build them up, express caring and personal interest, form relationships, and call them to a higher standard of excellence and maturity.

What to not do: speak words of devastation (expressing an expectation of failure), cause humiliation (highlighting flaws and mocking faults), express indifference, use authority to cause fear, or act out of anger and frustration.

In Response: A Prayer
 
"Lord, be merciful to me. Forgive me for the times I've wounded others. Make me a fruitful cultivator. Increase my care for the next generation, and through your Holy Spirit give me the strength and wisdom to expect the best and work toward it--both for myself and for those I influence."
 
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