National Writing Project

Student Voices: What Makes a Great Teacher?

Date: September 19, 2011

Summary: The latest report from The College Board's Student Voices series gives students the opportunity to be a part of the national dialogue on education and to provide input on what it takes for teachers to be effective in the classroom.


In our national conversations about how to reform education, we sometimes overlook our best and most obvious resources: students. Policymakers and educators seldom seek their advice on how to improve our nation's classrooms. This is unfortunate. Without students' input, we have little chance of successfully improving the teaching and learning process.

In order to start reversing this trend, The College Board Advocacy & Policy Center , along with the National Writing Project and Youth Communication , has compiled an exciting new report that helps answer a critical question on school reform: What makes a great teacher?

"The students in this report provide clear advice to all adults committed to the education of young people," said Sharon J. Washington, executive director of the National Writing Project. "Effective teaching begins with an understanding of how students learn best and why teaching matters. I so appreciate the ideas and insights these students bring to the education reform conversation."

These students speak, in no uncertain terms, about the characteristics required to be effective in the classroom.

Ten Pieces of Advice from Students for Teachers

The report contains five thoughtful essays by a diverse groups of students about teaching strategies that worked for them and an illustrated poster that summarizes 10 practices that students think are most important for effective teaching:

  1. Be pushy.
  2. Make the lesson relevant to our lives.
  3. Be relatable, but please don't say: "It's time to dip, y'all!"
  4. Teach us with words, sights, and sounds.
  5. Be consistent and firm.
  6. Believe in us.
  7. Explain, explain, explain.
  8. Use our time wisely.
  9. Have clear objectives, clearly communicated.
  10. Be a good example.

Students relate their first-hand stories from the classroom to illustrate the advice. To demonstrate how to make a lesson relevant, Ebony Coleman, says, "My global history teacher taught a lesson about feudalism and the caste system, comparing it to a typical high school's cliques and hierarchies. Since she knew that I dislike cliques, she used me to explain those who rebelled against the clergy, nobility, and feudalism. Because she put our lives—and me—into her explanation, I will remember that lesson forever."

Read the Full Report

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