Since You Asked: Tackling North Shore's Advice Box
Updated: Jun 13
Dear North Shore Notes,
I’m a teacher at North Shore. I’d like to know, from a student's perspective, what’s the best advice you can give us teachers to succeed.
Dear Thoughtful Rebbe,
First off, thanks for reaching out to North Shore Notes to seek advice. I am truly humbled that you thought and cared to hear our perspective. You want some North Shore student to delineate the characteristics of a “successful teacher” for you? Pile on the assignments, make the tests impossible, and always belittle your least-favorite students; remember, the goal is to breed a good number of troubled students to the point where the line for a counseling session in Dr. Bruckstein’s office spans as far as stairwell D.
I don’t mean to insinuate that any of North Shore’s teachers are evil masterminds, cooking up plans to destroy the mental and physical well-being of their students; on the contrary, I am pleased to offer you some sound advice so as to ensure that our school does not witness an event of mass hysteria to the likes of which I have so dramatically described above. In fact, many a venting kid would surely offer you some friendly advice, something along the lines of the following:
“Well, they gotta teach and teach it well… Maybe ignore the testing mania. Securing a date on the testing calendar is hard enough, let alone grading one-hundred exams… Make class optional while you’re at it, I don’t even show up… Homework must be abolished altogether... Don’t even bother showing up to school at this point, just don’t bother!”
Jokes aside, what is it that makes some teachers more effective than others? Despite the fact that I am a North Shore student, I do consider myself supremely qualified to deliver some stellar advice on the matter. While I have never taught a class of my own, I have years of experience being a student. An unbelievably large fraction of my time has been spent in class. Whether it be a lively class, a quiet class, an empty class, a virtual class, or a boring class, I have seen them all. Ever since my path to achieving expertise in this subject took root in kindergarten, I have observed and assessed the characteristics necessary to becoming a successful teacher.
Throughout my many years of schooling, I have noticed that classrooms often resemble wild jungles as opposed to environments conducive to the cultivation of the gifts students innately possess. For the teacher, this can be daunting. From managing the classroom to completing the course material to navigating the ins and outs of the seating chart to limit chatter, there seems to be no way out. Therefore, I have understood that it is only the best of teachers who can see the beauty in the mess.
It is only by getting to know the students from Day One, observing the stimuli they respond to, and tracking the general dynamics of the class, that a teacher will have more engaged learners throughout the entire year. Pretty soon, that “jungle” will be racking up more IQ points than those in Ancient Greece.
As we are all well aware, it isn’t truly North Shore unless an endless stream of announcements on the loudspeaker interrupts class every thirty seconds. For teachers, it can be nearly impossible to keep up with the lesson plan when some kid is called to the security desk every second of the day. Teachers can devise the best lesson plans, but no actual learning will take place if students don’t respect their teachers. North Shore places great value on the importance of teacher-student relationships, as we should. If teachers don’t take the time to get to know their students and make conversation with them every now and then, well, then that teacher is just some stranger lecturing a group of students on some topic on which they probably don’t have much interest. That sounds like the perfect recipe for a boring class. That is not to mean that students won’t be engaged; all eyes will be directed to the time, ready for the moment the clock strikes freedom.
Successful teachers know that students will have something amazing to share upon returning home, each and every day. Good teachers and students alike understand that learning should never cease at the chime of the bell. Students wish to be taught information that will prove to be important in the real world, not only within the classroom walls. If we can assume that students are grasping new concepts every day, then we can trust that they are drawing connections between their class lessons and what they learn from friends, parents, and their environment. Education is a lifelong endeavor. If the classroom is seen as the only place for education, teachers and students are missing out on a large array of opportunities. Most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much of what is remembered is irrelevant.
Until quite recently, the world’s great teachers were understood to be people who had something fresh to say about something to those interested in hearing their message. Socrates, Aristotle, the Rambam-these were people who had original insights and shared these insights with all those who were eager to understand them. One can see most clearly in Plato’s dialogues that people did not come to Socrates to “learn philosophy,” but rather to hear Socrates’ version of philosophy. Teaching was essentially the public exposure of an individual’s perspective depending on whether they cared about it. One could not become a philosopher simply by taking a course from the smarter guys; instead, people were expected to formulate their own original takes on reality if they aspired to the title of philosopher. This was true of any and every aspect of knowledge and it should continue to shape the way teachers view learning today.
When responding to this question, an old quote attributed to Socrates comes to mind: “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
A good teacher knows that instructing students to memorize facts and figures in exchange for a high score will never do any good. A good teacher allows the students to come to their own conclusions. A good teacher knows that real education is inspiring students to look beyond the school for answers. A good teacher doesn’t fill the mind with bits of information but ignites a fire in the mind that will last a lifetime. A good teacher will touch our humanity, not program mindless robots. I have now figured out why you reached out to North Shore Notes: because a good teacher learns from the students just as much as the students learn from the teacher.
If you believe curiosity is the seed of greatness, I am sure you are already a wonderful teacher whom your students have much to learn from. Just one week of teaching at North Shore will go to show that the job is not easy (maybe ask some of the seasoned veterans amongst North Shore’s esteemed faculty how they’ve managed for so long). We students are quite a handful, but that just means we appreciate all that our teachers do for us even more. Thank you!