With exam season here over for another year, we now find ourselves reflecting on our performance as teachers as well as that of our students. However, sitting in the staffroom discussing our strategies with “that” class or “those” students is all well and good but does it really help in the long run?
This year I decided to ask some recently graduated students what, in hindsight, they liked or didn’t like about their teachers and what advice they would give teachers for the next academic year.
All of the students I spoke to are from the UK but their answers will resonate with teachers in most countries. A few points to note; in the UK we call studying for exams, revision. GCSEs are the final high school exams, they are graded on a 1-9 scale (9 being the highest). Students take these exams in year 11 (age 16).
Let’s see what they said.
What Do Students Want From Teachers in Exam Year?
Leonie: I think most year 11’s want reassurance through the year, through mock exams and the actual GCSE exams, as it sometimes seems like you can’t switch off from revision for a while without feeling huge amounts of guilt.
Fabian: From my teachers in year 11, I would expect them to be supportive, confident and challenging.
Megan: For me, I would like my teachers to be as empathetic as possible; many teachers are incapable of realising just how difficult year 11 can be. They disregard that students also have personal difficulties that may impede their ability to focus in lessons.
Hannah: Lots of support but not too much because it can become overwhelming.
Caitlin: Personally, what helped me the most was knowing I have the support from my teachers…knowing I could visit them at any point of the school day to ask questions about areas I was ever unsure of.
What Are the Qualities of Effective Teachers?
Leonie: The best teachers are the ones that ensure that students know that while GCSEs are important, they don’t have to dictate the rest of your life and you should put your mental well-being first. It’s good to allow yourself a break over weekends and holidays as I know it made me feel 1000 times better.
Fabian: The qualities that help me most were definitely the teacher being confident about my work and pointing out any flaws, but also telling me what I could have done differently.
Megan: I found that teachers who had the most experience and skill as a teacher earned my respect as a student, inspiring me to reflect their teaching skills in my exams to make them proud. Teachers who formed friendly relationships with the class were listened to by the whole class, resulting in more productivity.
Hannah: Being friendly and being generous with their free time.
Caitlin: That they’re engaging, especially in the revision lessons leading up to the final exams, it pushed me to carry having resilience right till the end.
What Do You Expect From Your Teacher?
Fabian: All I expect from teachers is that they care about making sure the kids understand whatever they are teaching.
Megan: I expect my teachers to be confident in their teaching skills. It is extremely obvious when a teacher does not know what they are doing, and this can lead to the lesson feeling poorly composed and a waste of time. When a teacher is well practised in their skills, I can trust that my time is best spent in their lesson.
Hannah: To be understanding and give useful compact revision resources.
Caitlin: Feedback on mock exams, and practice questions, both positive and negative! This helped me so much as the feedback given, allowed me to structure my revision into key areas that I needed to work on. A teacher that will challenge me and my knowledge to help stretch me further.
What Personality Traits Do Teachers Need to Be Successful?
Fabian: I think that teachers who are too friendly or too laid back don’t get the job done properly as it can distract the pupils and also other teachers.
Megan: Personally, I like to see a sense of humor from my teachers. A good sense of humor leads to better relationships with students, more enjoyable lessons, and eases exam pressure. It also suggests good character of the teacher; all of my favorite teachers from the year have been funny people.
Hannah: Approachable and selfless.
Caitlin: Someone that is passionate about the subject they are teaching.
How Can Teachers Motivate Students in Exam Year?
Leonie: From what I’ve seen, the best way teachers motivate is by reminding us of what we’ve achieved on our own in the past and showing us the areas we need to focus on.
Fabian: Teachers can motivate students many ways but the way I found most useful is the teacher breaking down everything I need to revise or what I have to learn.
Megan: I don’t particularly look for motivation from other people, but a few months ago my science teacher told me something that I took to heart. He said, with all sincerity, “You are really really really really really really good at science, Megan. I want you to get a 9” (9 is the top grade in the UK). At that time I didn’t think it was possible, but I genuinely believed that my science teacher saw it was achievable, and I trusted his judgement. Since then, I have worked so hard and all my science exams went amazing!
Hannah: Small revision tasks often to help build confidence/ fun ways to revise.
Caitlin: Trying different learning/revision techniques with students to help them understand what strategies work best for them.
Leading up to the exams, allowing me to have more control of the topics I was revising during lessons kept me motivated! It allowed me to be engaged in the topic I wanted to improve on, it also meant I wasn’t covering the material I was confident with. It felt like my time wasn’t wasted which in turn, motivated me.
I think you will agree, that there is definitely food for thought there. Some very mature answers which give a huge insight into what our students need from us in the toughest year of their lives.
I urge you to ask your students the same, if they come up with anything that hasn’t been mentioned here, pop a comment below so we can all benefit from it.