8 Things Teachers Wish Their Students Would Do
Being a teacher is highly rewarding, but it can also be frustrating, especially when you see students making the same mistakes time and time again. Some of these things, teachers can tell students – but can’t be sure they’d listen. Others are more about attitudes and behaviours that can’t necessarily be taught. Here’s what teachers wish their students would do in their approach to their studies.
1. Take responsibility
It’s very easy for school students to make excuses, and sometimes it’s the case that making excuses reaps more immediate rewards than taking responsibility. But given the choice between a student not doing their homework and giving a plausible, if false excuse (“I had food poisoning, I was throwing up all night”) and telling the truth and accepting responsibility (“it’s the rehearsals for the school play and I’ve got a lead role, so I put that ahead of getting my homework done” or even “I’m really sorry, I completely forgot”), most teachers would have far more respect for a student who chooses the latter option. Partly it’s because it shows integrity, but mostly it’s because honesty on the part of students enables teachers to fix any problems before they become serious.
For instance, in the case of a student with too much on (such as the example with the school play), a teacher would much rather know about it so that they can work with the student to help them balance their workload and prioritise appropriately. For a student who is forgetting to do their work, it’s useful to establish whether this is a one-off lapse or part of a more worrying trend that needs to be addressed. For instance, it could be that they need help to be better organised, or there is something going on in their personal life that’s distracting them and making them forgetful. In either case, teachers can only help if students are honest and take responsibility.
2. Make the most of opportunities
Secondary school can offer a lot of opportunities, but students don’t always recognise them. What a student might perceive as a boring field trip could be a brilliant learning opportunity of the kind that could even be leveraged into the jumping-off point of a personal statement. Similarly, there are school trips, volunteer opportunities, clubs and societies that can contribute hugely to your education. And of course, even getting a good full-time education is something that many people across the world are denied. What’s more, teachers can play a key role in making these opportunities come about for their students.
As a result, teachers love it when their students find ways to make the most of the opportunities that they’re given, whether it’s being told about competitions they might enter or putting themselves forward for the leadership of a school society. It might not be clear to you what long-term benefit the opportunity will bring, but the point is that you’re willing to give it a go and see what comes of it. Of course, your teachers know that you don’t have time to do everything. All the same, it can be disheartening for teachers who go to the effort of creating opportunities for their students only to see them squandered, so you’re sure to impress your teachers if you try to make the most of the opportunities you’re given.
3. Check their work
There are few things more frustrating than getting an exam paper back and seeing a daft mistake that you’ve made, that could have been avoided if only you had checked your work more thoroughly. Perhaps one of the few things that is more frustrating is being the teacher marking those exam papers and seeing the same thing repeated twenty or thirty times, knowing that your students could have gained better grades were it not for the marks lost in this way.
It’s no wonder, then, that teachers constantly exhort their students to check their work more carefully. That’s particularly the case in an exam situation if they have the time to spare and might otherwise just be watching the clock. The same is true for reading questions carefully, checking the marks available and avoiding any traps. After all, your teacher can teach you everything they know about their subject, but that isn’t much use unless you can apply good exam technique as well.
In subjects like English, History and foreign languages, that means proofreading your work carefully, including reading your work from back to front to spot errors. In subjects like Maths, it can mean testing your answer by doing things like putting it back into the formula to see if it works. Doing these things takes time that can feel wasted if you don’t find errors, but it’s worth it just in case you do, as you can save valuable marks.
4. Not over-identify with their test scores
Particularly in major exam years, students can end up defining themselves by their exam scores. This is the kind of language we naturally fall into, such as referring to a straight-A student as if their grades were an integral part of their identity. This can be damaging to students at every part of the grade spectrum, from lower-achieving students who think they will never be “good enough”, to high-achieving students who don’t find anything to value in themselves other than their academic performance.
While test scores can predict a student’s future success, all teachers have seen students with poor grades go on to achieve remarkable things, while others see their poor grades as a reason to give up when they might have turned their academic performance around. The worst version of this is when students have given up to the extent of describing themselves as stupid rather than looking for areas in which they can succeed and ways to improve. It’s also not unusual to see students with good grades whose self-worth crumbles when their marks slip even a small amount.
Teachers want to see students who retain their confidence and drive to succeed regardless of their marks, and not defining themselves by their test scores can make all the difference. Not focusing excessively on marks also encourages students to develop their abilities in other areas, such as extracurriculars, which can ultimately lead to possibilities for careers unconnected to academic performance.
5. Take risks
No, your teachers don’t want you to take up lion-taming or fire-eating. The kind of risks they want to see you take are academic and intellectual ones.
To demonstrate, if you’ve been given an essay to write, you probably have an idea of the answer that you’re expected to give. Take an essay on the causes of the First World War. You’d probably expect to write that it didn’t have a singular cause, but that a variety of short- and long-term factors played their role, from the immediate trigger of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, to arms races and increased militarisation across Europe. A risk-taking approach might be to argue that many of these factors were irrelevant; that they had existed alongside suitable triggers for war for a long time without war breaking out. The standard position is that war was inevitable; you could argue that it could instead very easily have been avoided.
That isn’t to say that your alternative perspective is right – and of course, you’ll need to be able to defend your point, which is harder than writing a standard answer. But you’ll have demonstrated that you can take an imaginative approach and perhaps go beyond what you’ve been taught. What’s more, teachers are always impressed by exceptions to what could otherwise be an entire set of near-identical essays.
And it’s not just in essay-based subjects where taking risks can be rewarded. It’s worth thinking about the ways in which you can subvert and exceed expectations in your other subjects as well. Looking at familiar topics from new perspectives is a key aim of our Oxford summer school.
6. Pursue their own ambitions
One thing that teachers want more than anything is to see their students succeed – not necessarily academically, but in whatever field they aspire to. Unfortunately, many students squash their ambitions and aspirations rather than pursuing them. In some cases, it’s because they lack confidence in themselves to try to achieve their goals; in other cases, it’s because they put their own ambitions second to what’s expected of them by their family or peer group.
Whatever the stumbling block, your teachers would love to see you overcome it and work towards achieving your ambitions. Those ambitions might not be realistic – for instance, if you want to become an Olympic athlete, bestselling novelist or Hollywood actor – but there might still be ways that you can use that ambition to shape your future career path in a direction you might enjoy. And it might even be that you do have the talent to realise your dreams, at least to a certain extent.
Either way, if you have an ambition, your teachers will want you to pursue it. They may even be able to give you some guidance on the best way to go about it, or point you towards opportunities that could help you.
7. Focus on their studies
Teachers know that there’s a lot going on in their students’ lives. There are their studies, of course, but also extracurricular activities, both in school and outside school; there are friendships and other relationships to be maintained; sometimes there are part-time jobs or work experience; and there’s always the need for some downtime, too.
The issue is that teachers don’t always agree with their students about what the balance should be between those different activities. Some extracurriculars can be very time-consuming, and teachers can get tired of hearing about how those activities have been given priority over their students’ homework or revision time. Even worse can be when students devote too much time to paid work, as employers can be inconsiderate of a student’s time and not be flexible around exams.
Teachers are of course sensitive to the fact that some students may need to work to save up for things like university tuition, but when that’s not the case, it can be frustrating for teachers trying to work around employers who lack respect for their employees’ education. It’s even more frustrating when the student is diligent and doesn’t want to disappoint either their teachers or their employer. But the financial pay-off now may well not be worth it in the long run, especially if the student sacrifices their grades in order to do their part-time job.
8. Keep their options open
One of the best things about getting a good education – which your teachers should be aspiring to provide – is that it keeps your options open for the future in terms of which directions you might want to take. If you do your A-levels (or equivalent qualification) and then go and do something completely unrelated to academia, such as travelling the world as a photographer, if that gets dull or you need a steadier job, you’ll still have those qualifications to fall back, for instance if you subsequently decide to apply to university. But it’s not unusual to see students limit their options by concluding that academic qualifications aren’t necessary.
And there are other ways that students can limit their options, too. For instance, some students will be set on a particular university, and won’t apply to any backup options, leaving them with fewer choices if that university rejects them. Others will choose subjects that limit their options in terms of university courses and future careers; while the A-level system does require students to choose a path and commit to it to a certain extent, some students take this too far. Teachers are particularly sensitive to these issues because it often falls to them to find alternatives when a student’s preferred path didn’t work out as planned.
What it comes down to is that teachers want their students to do well – both at school, and in their futures, whatever those might hold.
All photos were taken on Oxford Royale Academy summer school courses.