Teachers need to give ourselves credit—it’s hard to get it from anywhere else these days. And as a lover of magazine quizzes (“What Shape Is Your Face?”; “Are You Eyebrow Savvy), I’ve decided to provide a guide for “The Gold Star Standard” for teachers.

We deserve credit for the small, as well as the big, accomplishments. So, as someone who has been doing this for almost thirty years, I suggest that a teacher should give herself or himself a gold star when…

Three weeks after a lesson, a student still remembers an idea, topic, or word you used in an earlier class. 

A single face hasn’t stared at the clock for more than 5 minutes.

The students know each other’s names and treat each other with respect.

Students visit you long after they graduate.

A student is eager to continue discussion even after the class is over.

Your Special Needs students have “special needs” only on paper because they don’t have any needs that aren’t being met, and they don’t feel “special” because they feel pretty much just like everyone else. 

Parents say “we’ve heard so much about you” in a nice tone of voice, rather than that scary tone of voice. 

Other teachers seek you out for advice.

Kids want to show you pictures of their pets.

You become the trusted adult figure for the kids who don’t have any other folks to put into that category.

A student acknowledges your presence outside of school boundaries and doesn’t cross the street to avoid saying “hello.”

Some kid makes you a mix CD.

They draw a pictures for your fridge.

Kids get all flustered and proud if they know your first name.

You discover that several generations of one family think you are “their” teacher.

Everybody signs up for your class even though they know you’re a hard teacher. 

You overhear students talking about what you’ve been discussing in class outside of class or before class begins.

Everybody believes you are absolutely on his/her side (including teachers, students, parents, administrators, colleagues, and staff, the maintenance and/or custodial crew views you as an ally.)

The guy at the corner deli waves and hopes that your classes are going well this week.

The quiet kids in your class make eye contact, smile, and nod even when they aren’t comfortable enough to add to the conversation; by the end of the semester however, you have almost no discernibly quiet kid in your class because everybody is eager to join in the fray.

Students who hate your subject love your class.

You rarely end early and you never end late. 

You make the nerdiest kid feel good about him or herself. 

Doesn’t let the attention hog hog all of the attention. 

Can tell who’s Megan from all the other Meghans, Meagans, Meaghans, Maeghans, Maegen, Meagen and Graham from all the other Graemes, Grahames, Graimes, and Graymes. 

You can read their handwriting, or at least most of it.

You don’t wait until after the birth of their first child to deliver back their graded papers.

Did you smack anybody today? No, good for you!

Students find your class challenging, important, and interesting—even if they’d never say it out loud.

The theme song for your class isn’t “Rescue me!,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” or “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.”

You remember everyone’s food allergies. (See, dear readers? Even I’m teachable!)

Even when your students adore you as much as Linus adores Miss Othmar or Lisa adores her substitute teacher, Mr. Bergstrom, you don’t take advantage of their affection. To be more specific, even when adoring students perch on your desk like hood ornaments, you make sure that they feel safe enough to know the crushes only go one way.

You almost never accept bribes. 

You call on kids when they know the answers, not only when they don’t. 

You use assignments and exams to evaluate their knowledge rather than illustrate their ignorance. 

You don’t overdo the group work. For example, your students should not be editing each other’s papers so that you have more time to knit, text-message, or do Suduko. 

You rarely file your nails during class.

You rarely burst into tears in the middle of a lesson.

You rarely wear clothes so stained or filled with safety pins that a 13-year-old boy would envy your nonchalance in terms of grooming.

You rarely swear in front of your students.

You rarely drink in front of your students.

You never wad up tissues or handkerchiefs and stick them under your bracelet or sleeve. (Even young students know that what comes out of your nose is not precious enough that it must be saved. Invest in tissue.)

You understand that footwear revealing you have hammertoes is footwear that reveals far too much, no matter what the season.

Only rarely are your glasses duct-taped together.

You never make popcorn outside of other teachers’ classrooms, thereby distracting everyone within a 50 ft. radius and making it impossible for active learning to continue.

Nobody falls asleep in your class, especially not you. 

Your kids don’t try to escape your classes by going to the bathroom, getting a drink of water, going to the school nurse, searching for one contact lens, getting something from their locker, etc….at least, not more than once a day.

You understand that the outside world is not invisible. If a hawk lands on a tree while you’re taking attendance, if the circus appears on the lawn while you’re giving a lecture, if unicorns start parading up and down the hallway while you’re drawing a diagram on the board, you don’t yell to the class “Eyes forward!” You run outside your class, grab the popcorn from whoever made it, and feed it to the unicorns.

Your students don’t know which of them is your favorite and they really don’t know which of them you can’t stand. The same goes for your colleagues.

More than three of these apply to you? (Hey, I didn’t say it would be a TOUGH quiz or a HIGH standard…). Then WELL Done! You’re so entirely surrounded by gold stars, you’re dazzling. Good for you! Congratulations. 

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