Know thy students

Three wonderful teachers shared their strategies for getting to know their students, and all three are worthy contest winners. I hope you will enjoy reading what they do to develop a stronger understanding of who their students are as individuals. I am, as always, amazed by the brilliance and dedication of our teachers.

Tracey Moore

It is hard to get to know my students by teaching them math. I’ve always admired english teachers because they get to know their students through their writings.

The first day of class I give out a student information sheet. On the first page is all of the normal information…parent’s names, schedule, phone numbers, etc. On the back, however, I ask questions like:

What would you do if you were given a million dollars?
Who is someone you admire and why?
What do you think are the characteristics of a good teacher…a bad teacher?
Do you consider math to be something you are good at or a difficulty?

That night, my husband and I go through all of the sheets. We learn which of my students come from single parent homes (this year I have 5 students total that live with both mom and dad!). I learn who is self centered and who is giving (from their answer to the $1,000,000 question). I learn who is already defeated by math before they walk in the door…among many other things. I comment in red pen on the sheets and I always ask at least one question back to the student.

The next day in class I return the sheets and give students a time to reply. We have now started a dialogue that is non-threatening…because they don’t even have to speak to me to do it :) This is my favorite part of starting the year/semester off.

Sara Dunham

I do all of this on the very first day of a new semester to learn a little about my students and start developing a rapport with them, they also work as great icebreakers!

First: As soon as each student walks in my room they get to pick one tootsie pop and then find their seat. I have each individual go around the class and introduce themselves (name, age, where they are from) and then depending on the color lollipop they took they have to ask a specific personal question to their partner and then share their partner’s answer with the whole class.

Second: I have them fill out a student profile sheet with basic information and then progress to personal questions, such as what are their goals or interests and I also have a section that is titled something you want me to know about you.

Third: We also play a game called categories, which is where I say a topic and then depending on their favorite subject for that topic they group themselves around the room. (for example: favorite ice cream, favorite sport and then the questions get sillier as we go)


It is not hard to get to KNOW my students since they are amazing and are with me every day. However, since the EC requests to take fieldtrips have been repeatedly denied this year, I have taken some evenings every few weeks to take my students out to eat or to the store to learn how to “shop” as best they can. We then go to my house (obviously with the full permission of the group home and parents) to cook dinner. This assists now only with their community outing goals in their transition plans and IEP’s but it makes them happy and brings us closer together as a class (family- thats what we really are). I will also be taking two young ladies to the prom this year as they LOVE music and dancing and socializing. They do not have parents who are capable of taking them (or don’t wish to) on this kind of trip. These outings and experiences not only assist in my developing their goals and getting to know them better, but they increase my students’ abilities and levels of independence.

Luisa Haynes

When students walk in on the first day they are greeted at the door and told to find their seat. When they locate their seat they will find a boundary breaking activity which has questions such as do you have bothers or sisters? What is your favorite ice cream? Have you ever traveled outside of the US? Why are you taking Spanish? Thus they walk in with an established purpose and goal. This is wonderful because it gives me time to greet each student as they enter. After everyone has answered the questions I begin to group they by like answers. This activity helps them focus on how they are alike.

This lead to the second activity I ask the class what they think of when I say “a Spanish speaking person” the students then begin to brainstorm and I write the responses on the board. As the comments are shared I just write and believe me sometime it is hard…I have heard everything from they are framers to they are short fat and drive a pick up truck complete with fuzzy dice. After all of the comments have been made I step back from the board and begin at the top as if talking to myself…lets see Spanish people are short oh well I’m five seven and that is not really short…I like to garden but I don’t farm…oh my I’m not Catholic…about this time the students begin to catch on that in fact I am Spanish..I continue working through the list till I get to the end and then I simply say “You see I am not what you think of but I am 100% made in Cuba”.Some students really are at a loss by this time.. but I quickly say don’t worry if I had asked the question in a Spanish speaking school about Americans I would have gotten that all Americans are tall, thin, have blond hair and blue eyes…Let’s see do we have any Americans in this class…thus starts the education of the breaking down stereo types.

The third and final activity changes from year to year and semester to semester but generally I pick an object. This past semester I picked a puzzle piece and as I held my piece I explained how every piece of a puzzle is special and unique and how one piece is no more important than another I then related this to my life and the mountains and valleys that have brought me to this place. I encourage all of the students to share a little about what makes them unique. I always make sure that I have enough pieces for everyone to have one.

Thanks for reading.

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