Other Data: 20 Signs You’re Actually Making A Difference As A Teacher

horizontal-integration-making-a-difference-as-a-teacherOther Data: 20 Signs You’re Actually Making A Difference As A Teacher

contributed by Saga Briggsopencolleges.edu.au

You plan. You assess. You network. You collaborate.

You tweet, differentiate, administer literacy probes, scour 504s and IEPs, use technology, and inspire thinking.

And for all of this, you’re given bar graphs on tests to show if what you’re doing is actually making a difference. But there are other data points you should consider as well.

20 Signs You’re Actually Making A Difference As A Teacher

1. Your students are asking questions, not just giving answers.

Critical thinking does not mean thinking harder before giving an answer. It means being critical of all possible answers. If your students are asking more questions, and feel comfortable doing so, you can rest assured they will continue the habit outside your class.

2. You have used your authoritative role for inspiration, not intimidation. 

Monkey see, monkey do. I once had a writing professor who, as a best-selling novelist, was not too proud to bring his own raw material to class for the students to workshop. This was a great lesson in humility that I’ll never forget.

3. You have listened as often as you have lectured. Another lesson in authority.

Your students have respected your thoughts and ideas by attending your class; the least you can do is respect theirs. Lending an ear is the ultimate form of empowerment.

4. Your shy students start participating more often without being prompted.

Cold-calling may keep students on their toes, but it never creates an atmosphere of collaboration and respect. When the quiet ones feel comfortable enough to participate on their own, you know you’ve made an impact.

5. A student you’ve encouraged creates something new with her talents.

The simple act of creating is so personal, memorable, and gratifying that you can rest assured your student will want to make it a habit.

6. You’ve been told by a student that, because of something you showed them, they enjoy learning outside of class.

Even if it becomes a short-lived interest, your student will realize that learning outside of class doesn’t have to mean doing homework.

7. You’ve made your students laugh.

People like, and therefore listen to, other people who make them laugh. Showing you have a sense of humor about a topic will lubricate the learning path for your students.

8. You’ve tried new things.

Students, especially if they are older, can be critical of change. A new grading system or an unexpected group discussion session can easily lead to resentment instead of renewed interest. But your students will remember it. Whether the change succeeds or not, they will remember it years down the road when all their other classes, so similar to one another, blur together.

9. You’ve improvised.

Respect and inspiration result from going out on a limb, whether the limb breaks or not.

10. Your student asks you for a letter of reference.

Whether you get bombarded by requests for recommendation letters each year or have been asked for one in your entire career, you can’t deny the confidence you’ve boosted and the difference you’ve made.

11. You have taken a personal interest in your students. 

Your favorite student still may not get into college or achieve his career goals—it’s frustrating, but it happens—however, the chances that he will are infinitely higher simply because you showed an interest.

12. You’ve let your passions show through in your lessons.

It’s hard to stay animated when you’ve been teaching the same material for twenty-five years, but it’s also hard for your students to stay animated when they don’t know why your subject should excite them. Even if they never become excited by your subject, they have learned that different people have different interests and that it’s okay to share your passion regardless of what other people think.

13. You’ve made students understand the personal relevance of what they’re learning.

Psychologists have proven time and time again that people remember things much better if they are personally relevant. Perhaps the lone advantage in a self-centered culture.

14. You have cared–and shown that you cared.

Researchers at the University of Leicester have proven that students assign the most authority to teachers who care about them. If this is true, then you are demonstrating a wonderful principle: that respect comes from kind behavior.

15. You have helped a student choose a career.

Whether your student was already interested in your subject when she entered your class or only became interested once you started teaching, you know you’ve done a great thing when she asks you privately about careers in your field.

16. One of your students becomes an educator.

Maybe one of the greatest honors of all. You must know you had some part in the process, whether it was something you did or (yikes) didn’t do.

17. A parent approaches you with kind words.

Certainly too seldom the case, but reassuring when it happens. Sometimes you have no idea your student listened to a word you said until a relative comes forward to thank you.

18. Your students visit you when they don’t have to.

This is not a popularity contest. This is an accessibility contest. If your students feel comfortable approaching you outside of class, whether for help on an assignment or advice on a career, you’ve made a difference already.

19. You can be a mentor when you need to be.

Many students suffer from major obstacles to learning in the form of inner conflict or turmoil at home. While school counselors exist for a reason, you can’t afford to be completely closed off to personal issues. Learning is not independent from feeling, and this is something you can demonstrate to your students.

20. You practice strength and patience.

We’ve all reacted to current situations with emotions left over from the past, whether it’s trouble at home or personal strife. The ultimate lesson, at the end of a rough day, is not blaming anyone but yourself for your reactions. Students are always watching; someday someone will be watching them too.

Despite what administrators might drill into our skulls, educators exist to produce good people, not good test results. The true measure of our success is hard to record on paper but easy to recognize in a student’s behavior. Look for the signs and be open to improvement.

This article is based on a post first published on opencolleges.edu.au; Other Data: 20 Signs You’re Actually Making A Difference As A Teacher; image attribution flickr user horizontalintegration

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I love this article. It’s encouraging and brings things out that we don’t really think of often. Thanks for writing, Saga.


Great article! There are so many more…..10 years later your student tells you they saved your assignments, years after leaving they come to you to borrow books, they return to your class for essay help, they open a line for you at check out, they rush over to introduce their family, they call for advice from college, years late they tell you how they love reading, you get the biggest scoop of ice cream, they invite you to landmark events, they talk to you after class, they smile, they share favorite books or movies with you, etc…….How is this for… Read more »


I love this! A couple more to add. When students you don’t know ask to switch into your class or when current students ask if they can have you again next year.

What an inspiring, encouraging list. Thanks for sharing; I agree 100% with your conceptions of what constitutes great to excellent teaching.

The flip side could be “If you look down this list and find nothing you can say ‘Yes’ to, you shouldn’t be in the classroom”.


Great article! Love all 20! Just hate that it is made out that administrators are the bad guys. Many administrators, mine included, do have to pay attention and take notice of things such as test results, but also are some of the best mentors and encourage students on a daily basis. As the testing coordinator and intervention specialist on my campus I serve in an administrative role in which assessments are one piece that we look at in helping the whole child find success in school. Thanks for the reminder of all the great things we do as educators.

Joshua Raymond

I would add a few as well:

* When every student, from high ability to struggling, has been challenged to work hard, grow, and overcome obstacles.

* When dialogue in your classroom demonstrates respect for all participants, even on tough subjects.

* When parents feel like partners in education, not homework taskmasters.

* When you’ve fought for the need of a student all the way up to district administration – even if you didn’t win.


Keep the additions coming–we’ll use them to make a second list of teacher voices.


Addition: A sibling of one of your students makes sure to take your class.


When a student tells you they love Monday because it is the day they have your class!


I recently had the experience of discovering the substitute teacher in the room next door to me was a former kindergarten student of mine. It was rather troubling at first (have I really been doing this THAT long!?) but I now take pride in that! My former students regularly come back to visit me. That is something I’m really going to miss…


Bringing your own raw material to class is a good one. I teach statistics and I do a weekly, “What Dr. De Mars is working on today” where I show them the code, the data and the problems of something I did that week that relates to the topic. Seldom is it textbook perfect.

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Nice to read. I am sure more and more teachers are becoming like this and growing as educators

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Sundar Raj

Nice article. Teachers always wear a beautiful smile on their face and that is what make them the best. I feel teachers are the ones who are always going to be with the kids and they have a very great role to play. My daughter studies in Greenwood High School and must tell you, the teachers are the real angels – this is how my daughter refers them as.