7 Things I Learned About Teaching From Watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood reminds me of what great teaching really is.

1. Great teachers should speak slowly and softly.

When teachers raise their voices to shout to or above children it simply doesn't work. The children get louder as their teacher's voice does. Mr. Rogers speaks slowly and softly but always with purpose and strength. His speaking style makes his listeners quiet down and listen. 

4. Great teachers should dress like they care about their job.

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Many teachers are overworked and exhausted and their attire shows it. Mr. Rogers, even when he changes from his sport coat and street shoes to his cardigan and sneakers, keeps his tie on and looks like he takes his work seriously.  

7. Great teachers use ritual (but are also not afraid to occasionally break from the routine).

If any teacher thinks kids, even big ones, do not crave order and routine, they are kidding themselves. A routine in the classroom makes children feel safe and cared for. Mr. Rogers has the same basic structure to all of the episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: He enters to his theme song ("It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," changes into his sweater and sneaks, talks about something (the theme) or shows an object that introduces the theme of the episode, has a visitor and or watches an instructional video on his television "Picture Picture" (this part will often feel like it is unplanned, like an unexpected visit from a friend or Mr. McFeely, the postman),  feeds his fish, prompts the trolley to take viewers to the Land of Make Believe, sings an affirming song, changes out of his sweater and back into his street clothes, and promises he will see his "neighbors" (his viewers) the next day. Mr. Rogers uses a solid routine of the expected to frame his show which always contains a wonderful planned surprise. This is a great model for any teacher's lesson. 

10. Great teachers "mix it up."

In teacher school, professors talk a lot about the "multiple intelligences," a term which refers to the many different ways people learn. For instance, some people are more visual and some are more auditory, etc.  Mr. Rogers uses music, books, play, video, field trips, conversation, interviews, even animals to get his "lesson" across, but he does very little talking, or lecturing, himself. There is truly something for everyone in his neighborhood. 

13. Great teachers are curious and teachable.

Watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood is a lesson in question-asking and listening. No matter who he has visiting on the show, he invariably asks them if they always loved to do what they do as adults. He spends an entire episode asking children and adults about their first memories of school, in order to quell children's fears about the first day. Everywhere he goes, he humbly asks questions about whatever he is observing, always treating each person as an expert and always being sincerely curious and impressed by what he is learning. 

16. Great teachers explain everything.

Whether it's a menu, a sign, a battery, a drain, or even something as significant to a child's life as a divorce or death, Mr. Rogers takes the time to acknowledge the natural curiosity a child might have on a subject adults might take for granted and he carefully and respectfully explains it. 

19. Great teachers respect their students.

It's a sad truth that often the longer one teaches, the less respect one might have for students. Teaching is hard, hard work with sometimes very little recognition. In Mr. Rogers, teachers have a great role model for respect. He respects everyone, all of his friends in the neighborhood (even the puppets!), all of his guests, all of his viewers. He respects the fears and questions children have and the things they like to do. He respects their achievements and their potential. If there is one thing watching his show might do for a burned-out educator, it's bring back that wonder and respect about the world and its children.