Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What makes a good Social Studies teacher?

So what makes a good social studies teacher? In a recent discussion with college seniors, we discussed what makes a good social studies teacher. It was an online discussion so I was able to pull out some interesting statistics about what they said was important. The word "engage" or some form of it was said 30 times throughout all the discussion posts and replies. It was the most mentioned adjective discussed. In second place: Content Knowledge (or some reference to knowing the material)-about 28 mentions. Third place was passion with 10 mentions. 

I was excited to see our future teachers mention the word "engage" the most. I couldn't agree more. To teach social studies effectively, engagement has got to be #1. It is our single greatest weapon to defeat the arch nemesis of a social studies teacher/classroom: the word "boring." It seems like social studies/history and "boring" are always grouped together. Well, I want to break that and being engaging is exactly how we do that.  Engage the students and you can teach them whatever you want!

Every participant said something about engagement, passion, and/or positive attitude. That's awesome! Those are great things to be discussing when talking about what makes a good teacher. The challenge is to not forget those powerful adjectives or lose sight of them as the years tick by. If you feel like you are getting into a rut, I encourage you to seek out new, fresh ideas. Things you can do or try in the classroom to reinvigorate your teaching. Find something that will spark that passion inside of you once again. When we are engaging, it makes everything better! 

Some other keywords that were mentioned in our discussion: connecting, hands-on, variety, challenge, critical thinking, acting out, visual aids, and positive attitude. These are all really good words.

Passion is huge. Hopefully as a teacher, you are passionate about kids (if not, might want to consider a new job). Being passionate about what you teach is also important. However, nobody is passionate about EVERYTHING they teach. I am passionate about Greek Mythology and the Medieval Times, but not ancient India. So what did I do? I would ramp of the enthusiasm for that unit. Passion can not be faked, but enthusiasm can. Enthusiasm and passion will make your classroom come to life!

I found it interesting that so many of the participants mentioned content knowledge. It is important to know the content and to know it well. The more you know, the better/easier it is to think up engaging lessons and activities. However, it is impossible to know everything about the content you are teaching, especially if it is social studies. It's okay for you to say, "I don't know" when a student asks you a question. We are all human, not Google Robots. It's not the end of the world to admit to a student you don't know the answer to a question. Turn it into a positive situation, "Well, I don't know. Let's go find the answer together." Including the student in the discovery of knowledge is a powerful thing. Also keep in mind that you are teaching young kids so you do not need to be a PH.D. level scholar in American History to know what you need to know. The challenge is not knowing the content, it is making it engaging, relevant, and being able to teach it in a "kid friendly language." 

Above all, what makes a great social studies teacher is the same thing that makes a great teacher ina ny content area: building positive relationships with the students. 

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