“What is Good Teaching?” Series: Experience, Energy, Rapport

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MONROE, La. — Teachers have long debated the best way to get students to absorb lessons. Whether it’s learning ABCs or trigonometry, there is no definitive answer on the best way to engage students. But good teachers can offer informed opinion. Anthony Pitts has been picked twice as the Monroe City School District’s middle school teacher of the year.

His energy in the classroom and rapport with students is plain to see. Children seem to listen to his instructions and do their work – not the easiest thing to accomplish even on a good day for the best educator.

Educators who Care about Children Make the Best Teachers

Are such teaching skills inherent or learned? This might be the wrong question to ask. According to Pitts, there are more important factors at work.

Monroe City School District's Middle School Teacher of the year, Anthony Pitts, instructs his students. Photo by John Hughes

“Love of children,” he says. “I don’t think it’s so much a love for teaching. I do believe that a love for teaching does begin to envelop itself once you find that you inherently love children and you love to see children develop.”

This basic approach has paid dividends for Pitts.

One of his students, eighth grader Amber Eldridge, won student of the year recognition. She says the combination of good teaching and readiness to learn has paid off.

“They say that this has never happened, that the student of the year and the teacher of the year came from the same school,” she says. “So, I’m in his first and second period and he is an awesome teacher. And I’m so glad that he got the teacher of the year.”

Eldridge says Pitts’ skill as a teacher helped her blossom as a writer through encouraging her to practice regularly.

“Before I didn’t know how to write good essays. But now I understand it and I like writing essays.

She believes this skill will help her going forward.

“Next year we’re going to have to write essays and research papers and stuff,” she says.  ”Well, now I’m prepared to do that.”

Finally, she says Pitts knows how to keep things loose in the classroom.

“He’s a big comedian, but he knows how to get down to business, ” she adds.

Dr. Dorothy Schween is the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s education department head for curriculum and instruction. She says good teachers like Pitts keep open lots of educational pathways and possibilities for their students.

“I think it’s very important to expose children to multiple avenues of learning and to multiple avenues for their futures.”

Making Expectations Clear Crucial to Positive Learning Environment

And helping kids discover what they are good at is part of being a good teacher. But the Herculean task of focusing a classroom full of energetic young minds can be a steep challenge. Pitts says fostering a climate of learning comes down to defining relationships.

“Once students know what to do in that particular classroom and they know that the expectations are for your particular type of management style, then you as the educator, you now become the facilitator of learning instead of what I call the dictator of learning. Do this and do it now! No, you become the facilitator of knowledge, getting them to basically open up their own brand of schema and tying in these higher order elements of thinking and how that basically transcends and connects to their life. That’s the key,” he says.

Pitts says that opening these educational doors requires vitality.

“When they see the high energy, when they see you as the model – you are the model, educator, we’re the model.”

Martin Luther King Middle School’s Principal, Alvin Williams, says having a teacher such as Pitts is crucial – especially considering that the school received an F minus in Louisiana’s 2011 school report card.

“It is a great benefit, especially to our eighth grade ELA students that he teaches,” he says. “We are hoping to see our scores go up this year, not only in all areas, but specifically in those classes that he’s teaching because he is a dynamic teacher.”

And Principal Alvin Williams says having a teacher of Pitts’ caliber is good for school morale, calling his award a point of pride.

But Pitts says that while recognition as teacher of the year is gratifying, remaining a great educator is a fluid process. He says that only by reflecting daily on the job he’s doing does he stand a chance of keeping up with his student’s needs.

One Comment

    I think that the most important thing that you have to offer your students is yourself. Meaning…..in many ways great teachers have great experiences in which they want to share with their students. They see the value of education because they know what it has done in their life. In many ways therefore I am more inclined to think that great teachers need to really have something to offer instead of graduating from high school going to college and getting a teaching degree and then being a teacher. The reason why we have a tremendous attrition rate amongst teaches is that they may understand their subject but they dont really understand life. The dont understand context and unfortunately education is a “safe” place to go if you are unsure……it makes decent money…….it is fairly predictable……..but unless you have ventured out into the world……..and seen what an education can do then………you are not really going to believe in it……….which is why I think that no one should be able to get an undergraduate degree in education and teach……everyone should major in something………go into the real world and do something and then if you want come back into the classroom do it later. I am not saying that there are not exceptions there are many great young teachers but I really think that the normal pipeline should be you teach when you have done something and then you bring it back into the classroom. The outside experience brings context and validity to your message. Most of my best teachers were second career types and they provided a great deal of understanding and knew how things fit together and why.

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