The Greatest Compliment a Teacher Can Get

Whether it was a fellow English teacher or a teacher from another subject, I prided myself on the following simple statement: "Those kids knew about what we were doing because they had you last year." Whether it was grammar, writing, Cultural Literacy, or some kind of tie-in I made with science, I wanted my students to be the ones who were in the know rather than be the teacher to had the kids who seemingly had to be retaught.

That's not to say it always worked that way. Just as often as the best compliment I'd hear the dreaded, "What did those kids learn last year?" If I was one of the teachers from the last year, I'd shrink away. It was always easier at the high school, since we could just generally ask what the kids learned in middle school.

On the other side of things, students who like their teachers should realize the importance of the compliments and criticisms just mentioned. If you think your last teacher was God's gift to teaching, you don't show it by telling the next teacher he stinks because he's not like your last teacher. You show respect for your favorite teacher by demonstrating your superior learning, so much so that the next teacher will have to work hard to find material suitable for you. As a substitute, I rarely found this kind of student, which meant I generally assumed that the teacher for whom I was filling in had not taught them as well as their attitudes towards me seemed to suggest. I assume the last teacher was fun. Fun is great, and some kids even equate fun with being a great teacher. I would simply challenge those kids to show me.

I hope that most of my students over the years were able to show their next teachers what they'd learned in my class, but I hope even more that skills and techniques from my class have been used in careers and meaningful discussions. The fact is that you rarely know as a teacher. You might get a student show up five years later and say he liked your class or another student who writes you a stellar letter of recommendation, but you'll also get literally thousands of other kids who will give you no real feedback. From those kids, you hope you at least hear from another teacher how much they'd learned. Of course, I'd also like a former student to mention me while receiving a Nobel Prize or an Oscar, but I'd settle for a simple affirmation from another staff member.