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Students Measure Teacher Skills

Seventeen-year-old Jennifer Dedross started arriving to her physical education class at 7:30 a.m. — nearly an hour before anyone else. June Mays knew that Dedross needed to pass her tests to earn the Presidential Award.

“She was the one teacher who wouldn’t let me fail when I was slacking off,” said the Broad Run High School senior who plans to study litigation law after she graduates this spring. “[She] cares about your grades and wants you to pass.”

Marcie Ghanem considers her physical education teacher Ken Belchik to be her “second Dad." “I tell him everything. I know he’ll keep it to himself,” said Ghanem, an 18-year-old senior who plans to study childhood education. “He’s like my mentor.”

Dedross and Ghanem sat at a cafeteria table last week in the Ashburn school with Brian Bondshu, Craig Whisenhunt and Sevcan Soysalan. The seniors were asked to explain what qualities make for an effective or good teacher.

Eighteen-year-old Bondshu likes teachers who make the time go by fast while teaching the material, so that he has “fun learning it.” He likes teachers who use a variety of teaching methods.

FOR WHISENHUNT, “To be a good teacher you have to be excited about what you’re teaching and passionate about the subject because that carries over to the students. If it’s something that excites them that much, we’re inclined to want to know what makes it appealing to them.”

Whisenhunt, 18, offered his U.S. history teacher Dan Kent as an example. “Every day it’s like sitting there listening to stories. He loves what he does,” he said. “It comes out not like we’re being forced to remember this stuff, but that we want to remember this stuff.”

Soysalan, 17, said effective teachers help students “understand even if it takes days to make sure they got the material down before quizzes or tests.”

Soysalan likes the teachers who got to know their students in and out of class, not only focusing on “how smart they are.”

"I think young teachers make better teachers because they understand high school students,” Soysalan said. “They’ve been there recently.”

Soysalan’s teacher Amy Mayfield, who teaches English and journalism, graduated from Broad Run High School. “She understands the school and the kids that are here. You can go up to her and talk to her. She’s very open,” Soysalan said.

Effective teachers know about the subject and about people, said Carol Shackleford, supervisor of personnel services for the Public Schools. “The interpersonal relations between teachers and students is what you remember years later,” she said. “The interaction and rapport [you] build student to teacher and teacher makes the biggest impact on students.”

SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD Lee Ann Massack likes the teachers who talk to her on the same level, not as if she were a child. Massack sat at a cafeteria table last week with about a dozen seniors from Park View High School in Sterling Park.

Catherine Olson, 18, likes her physics teacher Leslie Britton for similar reasons. “She talks to us as if we’re equal to her,” she said. “She’s very interactive. She doesn’t stand and make us copy notes the whole period.”

That’s why Don Amos, also 18, likes psychology and government teacher Nicole Bartow. “She makes learning fun," he said. "She makes you want to come to class. It’s not like a normal classroom where you come to take notes. There’s always something different.”

Eighteen-year-old Robert Shipman pointed out the qualities of the teachers he likes, including unpredictable teaching styles, enthusiasm about teaching and an ability to “keep things rolling. [They don’t] stop and drone on one thing.”

Anne Brooks, principal at the school, said effective teachers have to know the content, have good communication skills and respect teenagers. “You have to like teenagers to teach them,” she said. “An effective teacher has to be a good classroom manager. It’s more than a people business. You have to manage behavior, time and administrative duties … People skills is top. You have to connect with people, but you have to do the technical side.”

“You have to make learning fun, because we don’t have the urge to learn,” Amos said.