How to Be a Better Teacher: Reaching Students in the 21st Century

August 13, 2019

Earning an undergraduate degree may be the first step toward becoming a teacher, but there are other things that educators can do, such as maintaining a commitment to professional growth, if they want to excel in that role.

Teachers who remain on a path of professional growth will, over time, learn how to become more effective role models, confidants, and mentors. In an article written by educator Ben Johnson for the George Lucas Educational Foundation, the author admits that while he knew he was a good teacher, he never thought of himself as a great one. In his quest to understand how to be a better teacher, Johnson said that despite being aware of his shortcomings, he never quit trying to improve, grow, and be better.

“Although I was not a world-renowned educator, I would like to believe that I eventually found my voice (or unique significance) and achieved a moderate level of greatness,” Johnson wrote. “During this whole process of becoming great, the varied experiences in my career as a teacher deepened my knowledge and skills, strengthening my resolve to improve my craft.”

In addition to developing expertise and experience through on-the-job training, teachers can benefit from further education at the graduate level. Whether seasoned or relatively new to the field, teachers who pursue a graduate degree in teaching or education policy can further enhance their professional skills, as well as find more fulfillment in their careers.

Ways Teachers Can Become More Effective Educators

Being able to connect with students authentically is just one of the skills teachers need to be effective. Learning to receive feedback, avoiding bias, and teaching students in an online forum can also help with professional growth.

Listening to Feedback

Teachers can receive feedback in a number of ways, including students’ end-of-year or end-of-semester evaluations, management assessments, and self-reflection. Information relayed by students can be especially important. When utilized correctly, feedback can help teachers become more adept. For example, some educators may choose to cover complex subject matter lightly in the classroom and assign additional coursework for students to complete on their own. However, if their students indicate through class evaluations that they would benefit from additional classroom instruction, the teacher may need to modify lesson plans to accommodate learning and improve student outcomes.

Avoiding Bias

An article published by the Graide Network suggests that teacher bias links closely to student achievement. To underscore this point, they cite an experiment conducted in the 1960s by Harvard professor Robert Rosenthal. The purpose of the experiment, the article writes, was to “gauge how teachers’ expectations affect student performance.”

In the beginning of the school year, Rosenthal told a group of elementary school educators that a test had been developed that would help them know which students were about to experience a significant increase in IQ. He also told them that several of their students scored highly on that test. To further the experiment, the professor tested students’ IQs at the start and the end of the school year. According to the results, “If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ.”

Bias can also come in negative forms, including gender bias, which can impact how students are taught and graded, and racial bias, which may lead teachers to believe that certain populations of students are more academically inclined than others. Since being aware of potential biases is an important step in correcting it, an educator interested in learning more about how to become a better teacher might consider enrolling in professional development programs.

Becoming a More Effective Online Teacher

The ways students learn has changed dramatically since the invention of the internet, and, today, a growing number of students choose to take classes online. A 2015–2016 study by Babson Survey Research Group found that in the fall of 2016, “more than 6.3 million students in the U.S., most of whom were undergraduates, took at least one online course.” The study further indicated that the number of students enrolled in online learning rose by 5.6 percent from 2015 to 2016, continuing the trend from previous years.

As such, online educators need to adapt to teaching in an asynchronous environment. For example, the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that conveying positivity that students can succeed, showing compassion for the busy schedules of online learners, and increasing the use of visual tools (such as charts and infographics), can help students adapt to a virtual learning environment.

Learn More about the Benefits of Pursuing an Advanced Degree

Professionals hoping to learn more about how to become a better teacher should know that completion of an advanced degree at American University can help them toward that goal. Under the guidance of American University’s award-winning faculty, teachers will learn how to empower students and make a lasting, positive impact in their lives. Discover more about the Online Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership and Online Master of Arts in Teaching at American University today.