Teaching is difficult and to be considered one of the best is a great compliment. Recognizing, though, that the subjective nature of such accolades can be flawed, I offer for your consideration this thought about the difference between being one of the best teachers and one of the many.
The best teachers understand that feedback and grades are not the same thing.
Feedback, at least the useful kind, addresses your strengths and challenges. Feedback tells a student what she is doing well, where she needs to improve, and how she can act on making those improvements. An additional piece to good feedback is to include how you, as the teacher, can be part of the improvement process.
Grades, on the other hand, are a simplified method of communicating a complex message. It would be difficult to run a detailed statistical analysis on every student's test, quiz, or assignment. Therefore, having a simple system in place that can easily be interpreted is essential. Grades, as used in most schools, do just that. Unfortunately, the reality of grades is that for any score, there are going to be problems. Tests are flawed. Questions may have built in biases. Instructions might be unclear. Weight of point values may be arbitrary.
So, how do teachers address the problem of addressing the flaws of grading with the need to give useful feedback? Well, the best teachers give both a grade AND provide useful feedback. Others simply give grades because it is either easier or they do not know (or believe) that grades do not provide the feedback learners need to grow.
The best teachers understand that sharing and cheating are not the same thing.
The knowledge creation process cannot exist without sharing. Sharing allows for the gathering of useful feedback. When working collaboratively, sharing is essential. Sharing what you know during the learning process allows others to benefit from the collective wisdom of the group. It can be seen as crowd sourcing understanding. Sharing also requires a safe environment in which students can be vulnerable and reap the rewards of creating knowledge.
Cheating is none of those. It is a short cut to a better grade. It is stealing. There are no other rewards for cheating other than, potentially, a higher grade. Even that is not guaranteed. Sharing requires one to care about other people. Cheating is an act of selfishness. If sharing is a virtue of a growth mindset, cheating is a sin of the fixed.
Teachers who make learning the center of their class, create an environment conducive to sharing and creating knowledge. Those who put grades at the center are crafting an environment based on fixed mindsets and are more likely to be challenged by issues dealing with cheating.
The best teachers understand the difference between being fair and being consistent.
I have often advised teachers to be consistently fair rather than fairly consistent. However, in order to do this, one needs to understand the difference between fairness and consistency. Fairness is being willing and able to take individual circumstances into account when making decisions. Consistency is applying the same decision no matter what the circumstances are.
Often, when students argue that something is not "fair" what they are actually saying is that they do not understand a lack of consistency. I see this with my own children. My 9 year old daughter often refers to how I hold my 6 year old accountable is "unfair." She does not understand that it is the same way I held her 6 year old self accountable, but the 9 year old version is expected to make better choices than a 6 year old. In this case, I am being fair because I am taking into consideration the maturity of a 6 year old into account.
This speaks to the purpose of schools as well. If you are working with children, you are going to deal with mistakes and poor choices from time to time. Remember, schools are not courtrooms. They are not jails. Teachers are not judges, lawyers, or law enforcement officers. With rare (and extreme) exception, approach every situation as a teachable moment first. Put truth, empathy, understanding, and resolution in front of fear and punishment. When in doubt, serve the person in front of you and, if necessary, get help from a colleague or administrator.
Thanks for reading.
Take care, help others, and create more knowledge.