The best teachers know their students… by @ASTSupportAAli


I wrote this post around 4 years ago… I am just scanning over it again, and reflecting on whether I have changed/adapted any of my views!

First week back and I am writing this post whilst laying in bed! I think above normal levels of exhaustion is a combination of my new diet, (I have given up fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate and carbs for a while!) And the start of a new academic year. I am still officially nocturnal!

No matter what, you simply can not be prepared for issues with timetables, rooming, students and parents. But, through careful planning you can be a little more equipped! I have found that planning to do anything related to me in the first couple of days is futile and silly, keep your time completely free for your colleagues!!

Anyhow, this short blog post is about my mantra of…

Know your students, not just students.

But, how do you do that? What is the best method? Surely, we don’t have time to speak to every single one of our students individually, holding an in depth conversation? Do we?

Well, let me share with you simply what I have been doing with my new classes.

Firstly, the first lesson at the start of a new academic year, is never ‘planned’ with any significant content. I simply plan to get to know my students.

I welcome them, I speak to and with them, I ask them about their holidays, where did they go, do etc. However, I need to be mindful that some might not have been anywhere, or done anything nice. So I need to tread carefully! You know the usual things you might say, these may cause some issues. However, do we ask everybody enough? Do we allow other students to get involved in the conversation? After all this may be the first time they will have seen each other too…

I make it extremely clear that I am so glad to be teaching them and that working together every single student in front of me can succeed. I let them know that in my class everyone has the expectation and ability to do the best they can. I tell them we take the good things from the past, learn from the mistakes and move forward to plan for the future now.

I call out the register, I ask them to help me pronounce their name how it should be said. I ask them where their name originates from, what it means and where they are from? I ask them a little about where they grew up…I ask them if they can speak another language. I challenge myself to learn to say hello in their mother tongues!

I then give them three questions that they must complete…

  1. I learn best when…
  2. I do not learn when…
  3. The best teachers…

When answering the questions there are some words that are ‘banned!’ Such as, ‘fun’ and ‘hard’ or even ‘boring.’

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 09.23.21
This resource has been adapted by @MrsMathia Deborah Bakarat. 

I ask them to consider all their previous lessons and teachers and to answer with honesty. I tell them frankly that I will use this information to become a more effective teacher for them.

I ask them to write in detail, not to quote any other teachers names, but think about lessons when they have done really well and others where they have failed maybe through their own fault or the fault of others…

This is now the perfect chance to open up discussions about ‘what is effective teaching and learning.’  You as the expert in the classroom can now challenge students who say, ‘they learn best sitting with their best mates, eating pizza.’ However, you can do this by explaining why this is not the best way to learn. You can also explain how you teach and why you teach in that way. It is vital to challenge the assumptions that doing things in whichever way the students might think is better for them, might not actually be.

Asking these questions is important to explore these items and challenge their assumptions and misconceptions. I understand that sometimes teachers may want to just simply want to avoid asking these questions because ‘they know’ the answers they will be presented with, will not be helpful. I will still ask these questions to explore these issues with my students. 




The last task I give them is…


I ask them to complete the sentence- I wish my teacher knew… full information can be found here!


Having quickly scanned through their responses, two that struck me were…

I have a disabled sister at home, so it hard to do all my homework, when I have to help look after her. (Year 10, girl.)


My mum and dad have split up, so being torn between the two houses doesn’t make for a great learning environment. (Year 9, boy.)

I also discuss one important rule, that I learned from Ron Clarke, which is, in this classroom, we are all family.

This seems strange to them initially. However, I stress the importance of respecting one another like family, helping each other like family and caring about one another like family.

I no longer do this! I am also trialling something a little controversial… I told the students that if more than 5 students do not do the homework, there will be extra homework for everybody…! This is linking to the concept of not letting one another down… being like a family. It is only a trial- lets see how it goes?! I will be mindful of students with Specific Learning Difficulties or additional challenges that make this especially difficult for them. I firmly believe in the principle of equity over equality. So I will not treat everybody mindlessly, the same.

One last thing, I always do with my new classes is ask them to come up with 2 truths and 1 lie. Upon guessing everybody’s lie, I jokingly tell them, now i know their exact characteristics when they are lying, so they should not bother doing it!! This seems to work with all year groups. (Year 7-13!!)


At the end of this first term. A 15 week marathon, I got my students to answer these questions…

  • The lesson/activity when we did…. helped me learn best…because?
  • The lesson/activity when we did…. stopped me learning because?
  • The most useful homework has been?
  • I really want you to know?

I have just sat and read the responses. I am pleased with them mostly, but definitely some areas for me to reflect on!


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