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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

What Students Want From Their Teachers: 7 Lessons

By Larry Ferlazzo — November 07, 2022 12 min read
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The new question of the week—directed toward students—is:

What has been your best experience in the classroom, and what action or actions did a teacher take to help you make it happen (if they did)? Please be specific. What can other teachers learn from this experience?

This question has been a recurring one during the years of this blog, and you can see previous responses here.

I think that teachers across the country are often required to participate in professional-development sessions that are likely far worse than one consisting of reading these student commentaries and reflecting on them.

Patience

Breanna Vue is a junior at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif.:

Did I ever really have a good experience in a classroom? No, not until my sophomore year. From grades 7th through 9th, I have been suffering from anxiety. Everything was frustrating, and being in class was uncomfortable. It felt like everyone was watching you and every single move that you made. Even if you were sitting in the back of the class, you weren’t safe. If you made one small mistake, then the world was over. Your heart would start to beat fast, your breathing would get out of control, and then you freeze, like an idiot. But all of that stopped, well almost all of it, in my sophomore year when I took a psychology class.

This class wasn’t the best just because I was interested in psychology but because the teacher also liked what he was teaching. Not only that, the teacher always had a positive attitude. He made sure that every student was learning and understanding what was being taught in the classroom. The teacher made sure to check on the “quiet” students to see if they had any questions and also always checked if anyone was struggling with the topic. I felt like he also understood how much I struggled with anxiety and homework which made me feel comfortable.

What other teachers can take from my experience is to be patient with your students and keep a positive attitude. Talk to your students and check up on them. Make the students feel comfortable, give them time. Always be positive, keep a good energy around your students.

bepatientvue

‘I Haven’t Had That Many Bad Teachers’

Melissa Tran is a junior at Luther Burbank High School:

The best experience in a classroom I have experienced was when I was in 4th grade I had this really kind and outgoing teacher. She was really amazing and always helped her students when they needed help.

The reason I liked her so much is because she actually seemed like she cared, and I was going through a rough time in 4th grade, and she was there so I will forever be grateful. She also gave us breaks after recess or lunch. She had this iPad and would play nice sounds like the ocean or something. It was just really nice and calming. She bonded with everyone of her students, and it was really nice to be cared about and to see her care for so many kids. I really enjoyed being in her class and I would love to see her again. She really did something for me. I feel like she lifted me up even if she doesn’t know that she helped me so much. I am just very grateful.

Sometimes she even made the class breakfast, and it was the best thing ever! It was so good! The way she taught was cool; when we would take notes, she would just sit on the rugs and be comfortable, and it was really sweet. I have a hard time learning, and she was always patient with me, and it was really nice because I don’t like it when people get angry at me. But then I moved after 4th grade to a different school, and it made me sad because that school that I moved to my teachers didn’t really like me, and I had a hard time learning and making friends.

But then I visited my old school, and it really helped me because I saw her and she told me I was doing great and she missed having me in her class, and that made me smile, so I felt better.

I think other teachers can learn from this to just be better listeners. Some teachers that I have just teach and give the classwork and don’t even try to help the students out, and it irritates me so much because I wonder why they don’t care. I’m not asking teachers to be my friend. I’m just asking them to be patient and caring with your students. But I only had 3 teachers that were really mean and didn’t care, so I’m glad that I haven’t had that many bad teachers.

imnotaskingtran

Giving Students Time ‘to Do the Work’

Tayla Johnson is a junior at Luther Burbank High:

My greatest experience in the classroom was when I passed my final exam in English, effortlessly achieving my goals by challenging myself to grow and learn. Specifically, when working on assignments like essays, I eased through them, making me extremely proud of myself.

I performed these types of new skills because of my supporting English teacher last year. He continuously, step by step, challenged my abilities in writing, creating the writing style that I have today. Slowly, he made me dispose of useless or unnecessary words, called a list of dead words. Also, he made us analyze poems to grow accustomed to detecting and finding figurative languages and discovering ambiguous meanings through a passage. Though it was difficult, he still gave us the time to practice and manage our unique writing techniques.

I figured that time is the most important necessity that a teacher can offer to their student. Meaning, that if making use of that valuable time, you can find the appropriate schedule to fit for studying and analyzing assignments expanding our brains (the hippocampus).

I believe other teachers can learn from my experience that giving proper instructions or directions, as well as giving students a reasonable amount of time to do the work, can help them succeed. Let your students know about upcoming projects so they come prepared and help the school experience proceed smoothly and with less stress.

givingstudentstayla

Feeling Safe

Marielis Alonzo Vasquez is a senior at Luther Burbank High:

My best experience has been in the Theory of Knowledge class because it helped me get out of my comfort zone and helped me to have a little more confidence when talking to my classmates. I learned to speak English with most of my classmates and to trust that they will support me when I speak at the front. The has supported me and encouraged me and all of us who are learners of English.

I have learned that safety is everything and to have a good learning of a new language you do not have to be ashamed to express yourself and say what you have learned. They say that the practice is the teacher, and the more you practice the more you learn and the easier it becomes for you.

ihavelearnedmarielis

‘Freedom’

Alex Valenzuela is a junior at Luther Burbank High School:

It’s pretty difficult to remember all the amazing classroom experiences I’ve had in my life and cherry-pick one to write about. I think the best experience I have ever had in the classroom was being able to express myself through the Allegory of the Cave project in my Theory of Knowledge class. The project regarded Plato’s allegory as representing “the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature” according to Socrates.

For the assignment, we were to get in a group and create a skit representing a certain allegory of the cave situation. I feel that I and my project partner chose the perfect one; we did a skit that included different perspectives on ditching. I spent a lot of time editing the video, really giving it that “Alex effect,” and it came out absolutely perfect. Out of all this, the best part was presenting what I was really proud of to the class and seeing how they loved it as much as I did. The opportunity to create this skit that was beautifully balanced with both educational and personal fun.

During this assignment, the teacher guided the class with video examples as well as presented a student example from one of the former classes he taught. He guided us in the right direction, and when it came time to begin recording the actual thing, he gave us freedom. He didn’t completely abandon us yet he didn’t spoon-feed us instructions either, and that right there adds to the classroom experience. He answered our questions, gave us advice when asked, and made sure we all fully understood the assignment.

Other teachers can learn many things from these sorts of experiences. Other teachers need to understand how to balance instructions to make them understandable yet also make it amusing. Being able to balance the two results in the students of the class actually looking forward to the assignments and having a sort of motivation for it. Teachers can also learn to give their students opportunities to express themselves in their work, don’t force your students to be strictly similar in terms of product. There is good ambiguity in creative work and the many different ways to interpret it when presented in front of the class.

Basically, don’t be so boring!

basicallyalex

Don’t Push Too Hard, Too Fast

Oscar Felix Espinoza is a junior a Luther Burbank High:

The best experience I’ve had was in my Environmental Social Sciences class this year. The teacher made us do an activity where we would “speed date” and introduce ourselves to our classmates. She gave us a sheet the day before with questions we could ask and answer. There were only casual questions, like “Are you a morning person or a night person?”

The next day she sat us in a 1-on-1 setting and made us talk for about a minute and a half before switching our seat. Once we got to speed dating, I didn’t expect to like it so much, but it surprised me how much I had in common with my other classmates. It was fun realizing how much in common I had with my other classmates, even if it was just a favorite genre of movie. It was nice to laugh with basically strangers and learn more about some of their hobbies and interests.

Something that other teachers could learn from this is to let the students get to know each other with basic questions and not force them out of their comfort zone with questions that give too much information or personal questions. A way to do this is to ask questions that don’t mean too much and questions that can spark conversation between students, like a favorite TV show or a favorite food. Just let them be themselves. If it gets too out of hand, then you can step in and remind them of what they’re supposed to be doing. I hope more teachers do this in the future.

letthestudentsoscar

Feedback

Anonymous is a junior at Luther Burbank High School:

The best experience I have had in the classroom was getting honest and helpful feedback for my assignments. One of my teachers gave me honest feedback about an essay I wrote. I read the feedback and tried to learn from it. I then went to talk to the teacher, and he gave me new ideas to make my essay better. I redid the essay and got a higher grade than the previous score.

Many teachers, and I am not saying all, tend to give your incorrect or “poorly tried” work back without providing little to no feedback. This is not helpful at all to students. We as students want to know the correct methods to use and see where our mistakes occurred. Most teachers say “go look at your notes” when in reality notes won’t help if you are just writing what the teacher writes without understanding it. It’s completely useless if the teacher won’t take the time to help a student understand one-on-one.

Now in these situations, it could be both parties’ fault—the student for not wanting to learn and the teacher for not being encouraging. Have teachers perhaps ever wondered why a student doesn’t want to do work? What things happen at home or the problems those young students carry every day? All students should have the privilege to learn, and teachers ought to see when a student is in need.

Other teachers should acknowledge and learn from this experience. It is not hard to add a little comment on a student’s work telling them what they should work on or if they did excellent work. It is not hard to reach out to a student who you know is having a hard time learning the new criteria. A little goes a long way. Those few words that you put in can motivate a student to try harder next time. As a student, it feels great knowing that a teacher acknowledges your hard work. It makes the student want to keep trying their best.

alittlegoes

Thanks to everyone for contributing their thoughts!

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@educationweek.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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