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Spotlight on Walden // May 03, 2017

Celebrating Different Approaches to Teaching

Illustration of many hands of different ethnicities being raised.What makes a teacher great? It’s a tough—and often personal—question to answer, but when you reflect on your educational experiences, chances are you remember a teacher who encouraged your learning or challenged you in some way. There are many ways teachers engage with their students, including listening and getting to know students personally. Another way is by creating interesting and relevant lessons delivered in a fun and engaging way that aligns with how students enjoy learning.

Great teachers will exhaust all methods and approaches to reach students on their level. Some might say they had an English teacher like John Keating from Dead Poets Society, who inspired his students to look at poetry from a different perspective of authentic knowledge and feelings. Others could have had a teacher like Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, who aimed to captivate children’s imaginations and motivate their interest in the sciences through exploration.

This Teacher Appreciation Week, we celebrate teachers’ different approaches to effective education:

Tiffany Tynes Curry, Doctor of Education (EdD) student
Tynes Curry is a third-grade math and science teacher at Weinland Park Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio. In her classroom, students aren’t simply learning math; they are learning how to become mathematicians who develop their own theories. Tynes Curry strives to create a culture in which children believe in their abilities to discuss and solve problems, which leads them to more easily explain their mathematical reasoning and answer questions from their peers.

“As a facilitator, I ask questions to make connections to their thoughts,” she says. “I ask my class to listen for understanding and then ask questions. I focus on strategy. It’s not extravagant; it’s just a different approach.”

“We need to teach students how to think. If you’re taught how to think, you’ll be able to make connections to anything, which can lead to a lifetime of success.”

Jomayra Torres, MS in Education (MSEd) graduate
“I’ve always been passionate about serving students who most need our help and attention,” says Torres, a teacher at BelovED Community Charter School in Jersey City, New Jersey. She realizes that learning doesn’t stop when the students go home. That’s why she started a tutoring service for underprivileged students.

Her biggest piece of advice for educators is to find ways to connect with individual students. “Students have interests, goals, and dreams,” she says. “They look to you to help them grow and develop. Find out what makes each student tick and what their motivations are so you can help them be successful.” This approach, she says, “is about more than education. It’s teaching the whole child.”

She also feels strongly that the other half of the equation for successful teaching is parents. “Keep an open line of communication with parents. Contact them for the good and the bad,” she explains. “Have an open-door policy—this is a major step that will help you gain their support.”

Teresa St. Angelo, MSEd graduate
St. Angelo’s trick? Using engaging content that prompts students to immediately begin asking questions.

When the longtime New Jersey teacher and 2016–2017 Library of Congress teacher-in-residence showed her students a toy catalog from the 1860s, for example, she asked them to discuss what they saw, what was in it, how it compared to materials they’d seen elsewhere—and then begin analyzing the differences among the toys in that catalog and those in current catalogs. Finally, the most fun part of the project: If you were a child more than 150 years ago, which toy would you want? “It’s amazing,” she says. “Once a challenge has been set, students question, describe, discover, search, talk to each other, and work to solve the challenge.”

St. Angelo says to look for new ideas everywhere. Go to local museums, national parks, or historical societies to find new partners and ask about curriculum that you can adapt. The content will help you develop new lessons that can be meaningful and fun.

Though teaching styles may differ, educators share a common goal: to make a lasting impact on their students.