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What makes a teacher great? Ask the students.

In April, we introduced you to some special teachers who had a major impact on students in the Pittsburgh region.
That got us wondering: What qualities do kids look for in a special teacher? How can teachers make learning more fun and make school more meaninful? To answer these questions, we polled--who else?- Pittsburgh students. While some kids had suggestions that likely won’t be coming to a classroom near you (Less homework! More recess! Candy by the deskful!), many others offered insight that should be assigned reading for all teachers.

Let kids know they’re special
Kidsburghers like to take charge in the classroom, but they also look to teachers for words of encouragement. Knowing a teacher believes in you makes all the difference.
Arrison R., eighth grader from Woodland Hills: “My music teacher taught me how to get out of stage fright. She talks to me and tells me good things. Now, I love to sing.”
Dashay Hall, fifth grader from a Pittsburgh Public Schools charter school: “Mrs. Kieger is special to me because she listens to me and cheers me on when I do well. She went through the steps of my problem, gave me examples of it and then gave me a problem to solve by myself.”
Adam J., second grader from South Park: “Mrs. Fittipaldo is my favorite teacher because she’s nice and kind. She helped me learn how to spell. When I feel bad she says, ‘Don’t worry, I bet your day will get better.”
Kayla G., third grader from Swissvale: “My favorite teacher is Mrs. Patty. She’s my favorite because she believes in me even when I’m doing badly. She still thinks I can do good. There was a time when I couldn’t do cursive and Mrs. Patty helped me do it. It wasn’t hard because she believed in me. I like to learn so I can have a good education and get a good job.”
Kelissa G., fifth grader from John Morrow Elementary: “My art teacher Ms. Saunders is my favorite because she always helps me. She showed me how to weave and color. If I learn to draw, I can make a difference in my life and become an artist.”

STEM love starts with hands-on learning
Many people bemoan the state of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in classrooms today. Yet many Kidsburghers picked science and math as their favorite subjects. The reason? Teachers who put the textbook down and let kids experience science and math in action in all its wonder. Here’s a sampling from some potential CMU grads:
Larry L., second grader from Peters Township: “I like science because we do experiments. Mrs. Kuchma helped me learn about how heat changes. We put two tea bags in hot and cold water. The hot tea bag dissolves quicker!”
Lavon H., seventh grader from Homewood Sister Thea Bowman Catholic Academy: “My favorite class is science because I like to learn about minerals in the rocks. I had to learn the water cycle and it took me a month to remember. But my teacher told me to look around me and see it.”
Roman M., second grader from Fox Chapel School District: “Science is cool. We do hands-on experiments, like planting a flower and watching how it grows in the sun.”
Destiny T., sixth-grader from Homestead: “I like science because we get to do different experiments, like the chewing gum experiment.” (Editor’s note: Students measure how long it takes chewing gum to dissolve in different liquids. Maybe more candy in the classroom is a good idea!)
Alexa H., fifth grader from Fox Chapel School District: “We play games and learn new things in Mrs. Orlich’s math class.  She kept practicing with me, and we played games on the computer with common denominators.”
Scott H., seventh grader from O’Hara Township: “Ms. Guerrieri helped me with math. We made multiplication flash cards to review at home, plus fake tests that really helped.”
Embrace the iPod generation

Using technology in the classroom can pique kids’ interest in sometimes stuffy subjects. Learn to love YouTube and iTunes, teachers because when used properly, they’re learning tools instead of time-wasters.
Scott H., seventh grader from O’Hara Township: “Social Studies is really fun. My teacher plays music and even uses the meter stick as a guitar. He shows PowerPoint slide shows set to music. He makes learning a lot of fun.”
Ashley H., sixth grader from Bethel Park: “Science is my favorite. Ms. Barton lets us watch videos about the Earth.”
Zoe W., fourth grader from South Park: “I like math the most. We do fun computer games.”
Show you care after class, too
Taking an interest in students’ passions (How ‘bout those Steelers?), talking through their troubles (perhaps with a sweet treat) and offering help after the bell rings can help kids thrive.
Michael B., ninth grader from North Hills: “I loved my math teacher. He can relate to me because he has similar interests. He sat down with me one-on-one at lunch. When I’m having a bad day, he would give me a job or a responsibility to do.”
Terri M., ninth grader from Pittsburgh Public Schools: “My favorite teacher is my communications teacher, Mrs. Marsico. She’s always smiling and willing to help, and she gained everyone’s respect and attention because of her attitude. She cares about I feel as an individual. If you’re having a bad day, she’ll give you a mint, let you get a drink and talk it out.”
Cortez G., eleventh grader from East Hills: “One time a teacher helped me with my Algebra II work by taking the time to sit down and explain it to me. She wasn’t even MY teacher!”
Lakin D., seventh grader from Wilkinsburg: “My science teacher Mrs. Jaquay is my favorite teacher because she’s funny, nice, giving and crazy. She makes me laugh. When I didn’t understand an assignment, she stayed after school to help me.”
We asked, and Kidsburgh answered. Science and math are subjects to see and touch, not memorize from a dusty book. Letting students plug in during class helps them tune in, not out. And an occasional pep talk or after-class study session does wonders. Talented students plus dedicated teachers equals lots of As. It’s simple algebra, really. 

For more stories on schools, teachers and everything Kidsburgh, click here.

Photographs by Mary Mervis
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