I’ve been a teacher my entire life.
I was a classroom teacher for nearly two decades. I was a local build leader and worked in central office for a handful of years. Currently, I am lucky enough to create my podcast and coach school leaders full time, working for myself. In each role, I’ve always been a teacher and an inspirational one at that.
Through being authentic, consistent, and focusing on what your students are interested in, you can be an inspirational teacher too.
My first year teaching I really messed this up, but rebounded.
My first year, I would walk my 6th grade class to the cafeteria to lunch every day. On the way, we would pass by an 8th grade history class. I admired that teacher because somehow he was able to get his 8th grade students to silently line up before entering his class. Once in the room, I saw each student working quietly in rows. I did not have the same experience in my classroom and I was awed by his power and control.
So I tried to be like him, lining up my students and expecting silence in the hallway. I moved the clusters of desks that promoted collaboration to neat rows that encouraged independent work.
It was a complete disaster.
The reason this experiment failed is that I was not being authentic. I was trying to be like my peer. My students revolted! They loved working in groups and appreciated that we listened to music they enjoyed. We got much more done and produced higher quality work when I went back to my natural approach to teaching.
The problem was that I was comparing myself to my peer and elevating his approach to teaching as “better” than mine. If you do that, you won’t inspire anyone — especially yourself!
The quickest way to lose your students is to be inconsistent.
To inspire your students you must be consistent across all domains of your class — preparation, delivery, interaction with students, discipline, evaluation, etc. Another way to be consistent is to do what you say you’re going to do. By following through on the promises you make, you will earn your students’ trust. With their trust comes the opportunity to inspire and challenge your students to be the best version of themselves.
The best news is that you don’t have to worry about being consistent on your own. You can share your intentions with a colleague and reflect together regularly to discuss your consistency. You can share this goal with your supervisor and ask them to keep it in mind when they observe your class.
The most inspirational teachers will include their students in this process. Imagine asking your class for a volunteer to track who you call on during a class. Do you call on more boys than girls? Do you call on more students of one race versus another? Then analyze the results with your students. Now you are teaching equity with your students. Talk about inspiration!
Tap into your students’ interests
If you use your students’ interests as the foundation of your class, you will be a special teacher in their lives.
Imagine two educators teaching the same class. They have the same standards and school-wide goals to achieve. Where they differ is in their approach. One teacher is comfortable using the district curriculum or uses the textbook as the foundation of her class. Another teacher uses her students’ interests as the basis to teach content.
When I was a high school English teacher, we often taught Shakespeare. You can dive right into his work like Romeo and Juliet, which is challenging for a modern-day teen living in Chicago. But if you explored the relationship between Tupac and the Notorious BIG and used that tension to frame the similar relationships of the Montagues and Capulets, your students would not only understand what was going on, they’d be inspired to read Shakespeare.