As teachers, it’s easy to get swept up into the fad of marks and grades and college acceptance and kindergarten graduation and learning how to read, write, count, tweet. That’s also extremely exhausting, something like businesses must feel about corporate results being published every quarter with stockholders wanting results NOW!

But is that what teaching is all about? I suppose we want them to do well in their tests and MAP scores and SAT results. None of those things are really motivating though and none of them send us home with a smile at the end of each hectic and often exhausting day. Here are the 7 Things Students Want You to Know about them that will engage / excite them and empower / inspire you with the outcome of transforming your school one class at a time:

TSWYK #1: I love it when you challenge me!

The myth about children is that they want an easy time, that they are basically lazy, and that we have to force them to be educated. Of course, all of those opinions are true when the teacher is boring, gives them things that are too easy to do, and does not treat them with respect. Children of all ages actually want to strive and succeed. In a school I was at recently, this is what one student said to me: “I’m in 7th grade and this is my first year in MS and when we got our first test is was so complicated and hard that was amazing”.

TSWYK #2: I love it when you make it fun!

The myth about children is that they want everything to be fun meaning just fooling away the day. This is, however, the last thing the children want. Fun to a child of pretty well any age right through high school means something very different. As one 6th grader said to me in response to the question who is your favorite teacher? “I had her for two years she would tell jokes in class but also stay on the subject and strict enough to tell.” Fun means relaxed AND strict; telling jokes AND staying on the subject. Oddly, fun means both enjoyment and application from a child’s point of view.

TSWYK #3: I love it when you make it relevant!

They myth about children is that they can’t be interested in subjects they might not that good in. Who’s interested in the ancient Greeks or Algebra 1 intrinsically? Children are natural learners, however, and anything can be interesting to them if you can connect it to something that makes sense to them. One middle schooler articulated it like this: “because the things she teaches it’s very like to real life scenarios and stuff and things we need to know in the real world”. It’s not surprising that the real world matters to children who are changing almost day by day and trying to figure out how they fit in. Making it real and making it relevant matter.

TSWYK #4: I love it when I get better at the subject

This one might seem obvious. It’s not. The myth is that children just care about marks. Unless we brainwash them into believing that’s the only thing we care about, they are intrinsically self-improvers. Two examples from disaffected students tell us a lot about what happens to children when they are motivated by obvious and clear signs that they are learning. One 8th grader told me that “she really just like when I came into English I didn’t expect much but now I notice my writing has so improved and I’m excited every time I go in there”. A junior told me her favorite teacher was her French teacher who “dragged her kicking and screaming through three years of French”. Children are excited when their skills and aptitudes are extended and developed.

TSWYK #5: I love it when you have a relationship with me bigger than the subject you teach

The myth is that children as they get older want to have less to do with adults and more to do with their peers. Indeed, the myth is that they listen more to their peers than to adults. Actually, that is sometimes true – when adults have abdicated their role as mentors / advisors / coaches! But children and teenagers equally find it magnetic when teachers show interest in them as real people. Here are just snippets from recent interviews I have had with students: “a great role model for me as a guy talking to him about anything I am going through” “

TSWYK #6 I love it when you work hard with me while holding me accountable

Most teachers I meet represent incredible dedication to their children. Not all but most. They show up before school to tutor, they spend their spare time (in high school their prep periods) meeting with students to provide guidance, they stay at the end of the school day to help the student who needs a little extra. Many will even answer emails at home, respond immediately to work uploaded to Google, and skype with study groups. This does not represent coddling but an intense engagement that goes along with high accountability. One student told me that “she will tell you the truth” and students really appreciate that honesty when combined with commitment.

TSWYK #7:  I love it when you trust me         

I interviewed a group of high schoolers recently and asked them what their favorite class was and why. It was interesting to hear each of them talk about something that they really enjoyed and the reason for it. What is your favorite class and why? “because we talk about very controversial issues so we know how to form opinions based on our faith” “being able to be exposed to the problems we are going to have and he plays the devil’s” “close-knit group” “want you to make mistakes so you get better” “she challenges us in so many different ways” “opened my eyes to where I come from – how to move forward”. They didn’t use the word trust but the implication was clear in the tone of their voices and their approach.

Kids won’t remember either the marks they got or the Friday quiz. They will remember their teachers who loved them, supported them, held them accountable for high standards, had some fun, and trusted them. As a high schooler said: “so many come back just to see these teachers”.  That is at least part of why we all got into teaching – to have an impact on real kids’ whole lives for the whole of their lives. At least that has not changed from the students’ point of view as well!