How to Be a Legendary Teacher

By: Roger Chamberlain

Can you imagine teaching middle grades students for more than four decades?

As a middle school principal, I had the opportunity to work with just such a teacher. Barry Krizan taught three generations of our community’s young adolescents and has reached “legend” status. This is how Barry did it.

Respect and Relationships

  • Create a climate that empowers students to take ownership of their classroom. Teach respect for property and people.
  • Make a connection. The better you know your students, the better you will understand the circumstances surrounding their behavior. You’ll be less likely to jeopardize your relationships with them.
  • Know your students beyond the classroom. Attend student activities outside the school day to build positive relationships with students and parents.
  • Express the expectation that every student will be successful academically, emotionally, and socially. Consider tending to the emotional needs of students as a project, not a problem.
  • Help students develop self-confidence and a positive outlook on life. Catch students being good and give them ample praise. Help a shy student become more outgoing. Express your pleasure in having a perpetually happy student in class. Your response to a wrong answer might be “I never thought about it that way, but let’s take another look.”
  • Model strong ethics and morals at all times.


  • Keep students excited about learning. Laugh at yourself and think like a middle school student. Add nonsensical, humorous answers as options on multiple-choice quizzes or tests.
  • Encourage students to become lifelong learners. If you travel to an interesting place, bring back artifacts to share.
  • Build on young adolescents’ need to interact with peers by including group and partner work.
  • Give students a choice in learning activities, such as reports, letters to a friend, journals, drawings, interviews, comic strips, songs, poems, and plays.
  • Because young adolescents are competitive, provide low-risk, non-threatening contests that facilitate and reinforce learning. Make it clear that the objective is learning

Student Management

  • Recognize that eye contact and head or hand gestures serve as subtle reminders that the teacher is in charge.
  • Be creative and realize that what may work with one student may not work with another.
  • Be responsive, not reactive when dealing with discipline.
  • Be authoritative and firm without raising your voice. Exhaust every alternative before removing a student from the class.

Be a Legend

Relationships are the foundation of effective teaching. Treat everyone equally and place others’ interests and needs ahead of your own. Make everyone you encounter a better person.

That’s what legends are made of.

Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, August 2012


Please login or register to post comments.

Related Resources

Topic Matter Experts

Bring professional learning to your school. More info...