9 Ways to Be the Type of Student Teachers Want to Teach
If you ask teachers what their favourite type of students are, the answer will seldom be, “the ones who get everything right.”
Instead, you’ll find that the answer is more nuanced – and often quite surprising. Many teachers identify their very favourite students as the ones who perhaps struggled with their subject to start with, and who would never be top of the class, but who gave it their all, worked hard, persevered through the tricky bits and emerged with a creditable grade despite their initial disadvantage. But whatever your abilities in the subject – whether you’re a straight-A student or your chances of emerging with even a half-decent grade are low – there are things you can do to ensure that you are pleasant to teach.
Being a good student to teach has lots of advantages: it might mean that your teachers are more willing to cut you some slack if you need an extension on a homework deadline, or if you’re on the margin between two grades. In the long run, it might also help you in getting a good reference from them for university or employment. But even without these benefits, the type of students teachers want to teach are usually the kind who are quickest to learn; so following these tips should have an impact on your own learning, too.
1. Read the feedback your teachers give you, and react to it
Imagine this scenario – you’ve done a really long piece of work. It’s probably taken your teacher quite some time to mark all of it. You get it back – what do you do? If the answer is ‘skip to the end, check the mark, skim some of the comments and ignore the rest’, consider not doing that any more. Your teacher didn’t write those comments for the sake of it; they wrote them so that you could learn from your mistakes and improve. If you’ve spent less time reading the comments than your teacher did writing them, then the chances of you learning anything are slim – and if you don’t learn anything from it, what’s the point of the activity in the first place?
We’ve written a whole article on how to address different types of essay feedback – especially when it’s vague or unhelpful. If you’re lucky enough to get clear, helpful feedback, then you simply need to work out how you can best take it into account in your next piece of work. It might be that you then make a whole fresh set of mistakes – but that’s what learning is about.
2. Try to answer questions, even when you’re not sure
Remember that for many teachers, their very favourite students are the ones who try hard even if it’s not a subject that they’re very good at? The evidence of you trying hard (whether you’re good at the subject or not) is not just in the work that you hand in, but also in your behaviour in class.
One of the worst experiences as a teacher is asking a question to a classroom full of students who sit in bovine silence, waiting for someone else to answer. Make your teacher’s day and be the person who ventures an answer to a question when everyone else is silent. They genuinely won’t mind if you get the answer wrong; either you’ll get in wrong in a way that’s teachable (the “not quite, but…” sort of answer) or you’ll prompt someone else who knows the right answer to pipe up. And by trying to answer questions even when you’re unsure, you’ll challenge yourself to pay attention, learn more and be confident to give things a go – so there are plenty of benefits for your own learning and development as a student as well.
3. But don’t shout out the answer if you’ve been asked not to
Teachers’ answers to their preferred type of student can seem contradictory. They want students who try their hardest, who answer questions, who respond to feedback – but many teachers note that they also don’t enjoy teaching students who want to be “teacher’s pet”. What’s the difference?
The answer seems to be that students who try, try hard for the sake of learning the subject. Teacher’s pets try for the sake of impressing the teacher, even when it’s not helpful or necessary. A teacher’s pet might stay behind at the end of the class with a question that doesn’t really need answering, in order to impress the teacher with the fact that they asked. And a particular bugbear of teachers is when they have made it clear that they will pick students to answer questions – giving weaker students an opportunity to shine – and the teacher’s pet jumps up and answers the question when it’s not their turn, in order to steal the limelight. It’s great to be enthusiastic when it’s appropriate (and it will be appropriate most of the time), but your teachers won’t thank you if you take up their time when it was specifically needed by others in the class, especially if they are weaker in the subject than you are.
4. Come prepared when you ask for help
Another reoccurring theme when teachers discuss their favourite types of students is asking for help. Teachers prefer students who ask for help rather than struggling in silence; while it’s part of a teacher’s responsibility to spot if a student is having difficulties, if that student is managing only through extreme effort (such as spending much longer on their work than they should need to), the teacher can’t necessarily see the problem without being told. Being told “I’m having difficulty with this” is much better than it getting to the end of term and hearing them from a parent how much their child has been struggling with the tasks.
That said, it can make a lot of difference to your teacher if you do a bit of work yourself to figure out the problem. Showing up and saying, “I’m stuck” and expecting your teacher to diagnose and solve the issue for you is frustrating if you are capable of putting in more effort yourself; for example, there’s a world of difference between “I’m stuck because I don’t understand the question” and “I’m stuck because I can’t figure out where to start my research”, and you should be able to come to your teacher knowing which one it is.
5. Give your teachers some consideration
While this won’t help you with your studies in the least, if you want your teachers to like you more, showing some basic consideration and remembering that they are people too can make a big difference. For instance, if you have a question, consider not asking it when they’re halfway through their lunch, or about to go home, with their car keys already in their hand. If you send them an email, try not to send it at 11pm requiring a response for 8am the next morning. If you’ve arranged a meeting, especially if that goes above and beyond the usual requirements of your teacher’s role, do your utmost to be there punctually and to stick to the time limits that you’ve agreed.
Being a considerate student doesn’t just involve thinking about your teachers’ time, however. Basic politeness, such as remembering to say thank you if they’ve gone out of their way to help you with something, makes a big difference. If they’ve gone to a really significant amount of effort, such as giving you additional teaching out of standard classroom time, then a thank-you card is appropriate and would undoubtedly be appreciated.
6. Use your wider knowledge of the world to tie in with their subject
One thing that teachers really appreciate that may surprise you is when you make the effort to connect other knowledge that you may have to their subject, or when you set the things that they have taught you in a broader context. While this might seem like an odd thing for teachers to favour in their students, it’s something that comes up time and time again when they asked what traits their favourite students have.
For one thing, even if you’re not very good at a subject, relating it to topics that you might know better can help enhance your understanding. For another, thinking about a subject in context helps you understand the importance and merit of the things that you’re learning, and how they might be useful in future. And finally, if you can think about the subject and compare and contrast it with other things you’ve learned, you’ve probably demonstrated quite a high level of understanding of what you’re being taught. You shouldn’t take this to extremes – your Maths teacher won’t thank you if you’re constantly banging on about History in their class – but if what you’re being taught reminds you of something you learned elsewhere, and you’re wondering whether to raise it, it’s best to err on the side of speaking up.
7. Be curious, engage with the material and ask challenging questions
The students teachers actively want to teach don’t just answer questions; they ask them too. While a teacher might not appreciate a tough question in their last lesson of the day on a Friday at the end of term (remembering to be considerate), most of the time they’ll welcome questions from their students that they’ll actually have to think about. That’s doubly true if the question demonstrates how much you’ve engaged with the activity that you’re supposed to be doing. For instance, if the source you’re reading in a history textbook seems to contradict something else on the page, then by all means ask about it. However, only do so if you’ve actually read to the end of the page to see if it’s addressed later on; asking a question that’s shortly to be answered (or worse, one that’s already been answered when you weren’t paying attention) is less endearing.
Anything that furthers your curiosity and engagement with the subject is likely to be a good thing as far as your teacher is concerned. That’s the case even if it means they have to go to a bit of extra effort to find out the answers to your questions; few teachers will mind working a little harder for the sake of a student who’s working hard themselves.
8. Take risks and go above and beyond what’s required
If you’re ever wondering whether to try something a bit different in response to an assignment, or whether to play it safe, the verdict from teachers is pretty clear: they’d rather you took the chance. It might not result in higher marks than the safer option, but your teacher will be impressed with you for trying, and it could pay off.
This could mean trying a new approach to writing an essay, or a harder option than you’d usually pick when deciding between a range of possible tasks. It could mean completing an assignment in a different way than usual; if you’ve been given a choice of ways to answer a question (e.g. making a poster, creating a PowerPoint presentation and so on), you could try something like creating a video or a short animation instead. When your teacher is faced with 28 or more answers to an assignment, they’re grateful for anything that stands out.
9. Above all, work hard and try – don’t be lazy or complacent
If there’s one type of student that it’s clear teachers don’t like, it isn’t those who struggle with their subject, or who are shy, or even those who are actively challenging to teach – it’s those who don’t bother to try. It might be that they don’t bother to try because they’re content with the marks they’re getting so they don’t see the need, or because they think they’re so hopeless at the subject that any effort they put in will be wasted any. But both of these types of students could be proven wrong if they put some effort in. Whatever you do to try to impress your teachers, trying your best will always reap rewards.
Image credits: apple on desk; reading; marked paper; teacher; reading; lazy dog