I absolutely love learning. I’m a self-proclaimed student of life, and if I could, I would be in school forever learning seemingly random things such as Greek mythology, interior design, acting, and even massage therapy. I’m a bit of a hoarder, though I like to consider myself a collector of rare items – rare knowledge, if you will.
Unfortunately, I’ve also had many bad learning experiences that discouraged me from pursuing a topic any further. I’m not alone. I’ve noticed many people decide not to learn certain things not because there’s a lack of interest, but because the subject wasn’t taught in the right way. That’s sad. Too often, potentially life-changing ideas are left to die because no one found a way to teach it properly.
Bad teaching is not a reflection of bad content. It is simply bad teaching.
In an attempt to prevent the further inhibition of spreading good ideas due to bad teaching, here are 10 tips teachers can utilize immediately to help us all learn a little more and live a little better:
1) Care. If you don’t care. Your students won’t care. In fact, if you don’t care, you might as well be doing something else because we can smell your lack of enthusiasm from a mile away. And it stinks. Care about the content you are providing. Care about whether or not your students are actually benefiting from your class. Care about us. At the very least, try to remember our names.
2) Teaching a class is like putting on a show. The classroom is your stage. Keep us captivated. Utilize your body, language, and speech for maximum engagement. Your mission impossible is to make sure your students are absorbing the content you provide, and you must take advantage of the tools available to make sure that happens. Like a great script, often times this involves keeping up the pace, deleting the unessential, and having some fun.
3) Inactive bodies = Inactive brains. Move around. Make us get off our seats or else we’ll fall asleep. Yes, you too. No lecterns allowed. Movement provides variety, prevents monotony, and sustains attention. Tracking movement is also a fundamental human characteristic we utilized back in the caveman days to identify the difference between a harmless tree and a lion out to kill us. Simply put, we’re really good at it. Use this to your advantage to maintain attention through movement and keep your class moving. Literally.
4) Show us who you are. Show us your fears and aspirations. Show us you’re human, too. As a teacher, you may be compelled to appear flawless, but if you have the courage to admit that you are not perfect and that bad things may still happen, you will create a level of honesty that will reflect back in your students. I once had a teacher who admitted to once being a heroin addict living out of his taxicab. Damn. As a student, what else can I do but to return that level of honesty? Be honest. An immense pressure will be lifted off your shoulders, and your students will become more receptive.
5) Share your point of view. Don’t just be the bearer of information. My most exciting times as a student were when a teacher went on a rant. Why? Because I knew for damn sure that he wasn’t just regurgitating the textbook. It was the textbook, and then some. Give us your interpretations. 90 percent of everything you teach can be found on the Internet in less than a second. How can you add any value to that? Your class should be appealing not just because of the topic it covers, but because YOU are teaching.
6) Let us make mistakes. Mistakes are opportunities for teachers to pass on valuable information. When we make mistakes, it is your opportunity to explain how this problem came to be, and how to avoid it in the future. Since this is a problem we encountered ourselves, we will be more motivated to understand both the problem and the solution. Some teachers provide too much information in attempts to avoid as many mistakes as possible, but as a result, everything just flies over our heads. By embracing mistakes, teachers allow students to make their own discoveries. Your goal as a teacher is not to prevent mistakes from happening, it is to allow your students to understand their topic as much as possible, and mistakes are a great tool in doing so. Mistakes are golden.
7) Remind yourself that your students don’t know as much as you. It’s a bit sad, but I’ve encountered teachers who can’t help but to roll their eyes every time a student asks a question. You’re the teacher because your students don’t know as much as you do. It’s as simple as that. Remind yourself of this as often as you can. It keeps you humble. It also keeps you from being an asshole.
8) Take classes. This doesn’t mean you’re any lesser; it means you’re dedicated to a life of constant growth. Taking classes is an opportunity to discover new educational techniques you can use for your own students. Taking on the role of a student can also help you discover things that do not work. For example, the majority of this post is the result of being a frustrated student bored out of my mind. Taking classes reminds you what it’s like to be a student, and the best teachers are those who understand their students the most. In fact, the best teachers are students for life.
9) Students want to feel capable. Sure, there's a time and place for tough love but every once in a while you need to remind your students how well they are doing and despite the fact that they feel like shit, they are in fact improving. Encouragement creates a positive feedback loop, which motivates students to do more and more. The opposite only makes students feel worse, do worse and at the worst, quit entirely. In that case, you’ve failed as a teacher.
10) It’s all an experiment. All people learn differently. What works for some students may not work for others. Teachers have the answers, but it may take several attempts to effectively communicate those answers to your students. Vary your techniques. Find out what makes your students tick and keep at it. To be a teacher is to be willing to dive into the unknown, figure shit out, and get everyone out alive. Sure, you may get a few bumps and bruises along the way, but you also get to share your collection of knowledge that will benefit others for a lifetime.
Being a teacher is one of the noblest things you can do, and if you are a teacher, then I hope you found this useful. Then again, the skills of a good teacher are not and should not be limited to just those who do it for a living; it can benefit all of us. Whether it’s explaining personal finances to a friend, teaching your parents how to use the latest smartphone, or showing your children how to use the stove without burning the house down, everyone can apply the above principles to their life. I truly believe that by improving the way we share our ideas, we could really make the world a better place.
by Jason Lam