Here are ten successful actions for teachers, all based on experience, all important to about the same degree:
1. Turn up on time for your lesson.
Try whenever possible to be in the room before the students arrive. At the very least, try never to be late. If you’re late, the student unconsciously can feel that the lesson isn’t important to you and by inference that they aren’t important to you. Bad start. If you’re there and reasonably prepared, the student gains confidence and feels that something of importance is about to take place.
(By implication, never ever miss a lesson entirely or let students sit waiting in an empty room with no teacher. That’s just an obvious recipe for trouble.)
2. Don’t lose your temper with students.
If a class or an individual student can make you lose your temper, they also have your ‘measure’ and will lose respect for you at that exact moment. This does not mean that you can never raise your voice or impinge upon a class or an individual, but you must always be totally in control and show them that you are by switching off the loudness instantly and returning to ‘normal’ right in front of them so that they know that you are still your normal approachable and confident self.
Similarly, don’t out of bitterness compare one class with another unfavourably as in ‘You know, the class I just had got this much quicker than you.’ This chills the atmosphere in a classroom quicker than an iceberg and your lesson will sink faster than the Titanic. They feel awful and so will you.
If you’re asked -as does happen- ‘Which is your favourite class?’ then of course it is always the one in front of you. Smiles all round, even if they think you’re fibbing.
3. If you have to tell someone off, do it in a way which doesn’t make them feel worse as a person.
You can point out an outness or wrongness without making the person feel completely rotten. After all, the person is never completely rotten, even if what they have just done might be. Wrong: ‘Johnny you are such an idle person, get your materials out right away!’ Right: ‘Johnny, come on you can move quicker than that.’
4. Don’t take anything too seriously.
Similar to 2. above, if you take something too seriously the student may feel that he or she has you under their control rather than the other way round. By making light of any attempt to distract or poison your lesson, you can deflect attention from the student and direct it back onto the substance of the lesson. The distraction flutters away and dies.
Basically, in a lesson you get what you put attention on. If you spend too long taking up problems, you’ll get more problems; if you concentrate on things you want and production, that’s what you’ll get.
5. Be prepared.
Students aren’t stupid -most are very astute and sharp. If you don’t know what you’re talking about or can’t explain something quickly and accurately, then your credibility plummets and they begin to wonder why they are there.
A confident teacher with a well-planned lesson who can fire back answers swiftly is a winning formula. If you genuinely don’t know something and so can’t actually handle a question on the spot, take the time to look it up with the student and show interest in finding out the answer. This wins respect and shows that you are real and …interested.
The other side of this is try not to leave any question unanswered in that lesson. Chances are you and the student will have forgotten all about it by next time, but your ‘stock’ as a teacher will have dropped in value to the degree that you didn’t show interest and answer the question intelligently.
6. Control the lesson.
You’re in charge for the period of the lesson. If you abandon control for a moment because a student ‘just wants to say something’ then make sure that you re-assert your control as soon as you can. You don’t have to do this forcefully -it’s all about directing the student’s and the class’s attention. If they are watching you and listening to you, you’re in control; if they’re not watching or listening to you, or not doing a task you’ve set them to do, they’re not in your control and no actual lesson is taking place.
How do you control a lesson if the kids are all talking and shouting and doing things other than what you have asked them to do? This is where your creativity and power as a teacher comes in: you must grab their attention and be more interesting than what they are doing or are interested in and then hold that attention for the duration of the lesson. If you are having trouble doing this, experience suggests that you haven’t ‘pitched’ the lesson right -you may not have captured that class’s particular reality or interests, you may not have caught quite the right energy level or emotional level.
Teachers have walked into a class with a fully prepared lesson which they considered fascinating and powerful, only to lose the entire group’s attention within seconds and for the rest of the period. No lesson, no learning. Similarly, teachers have been ill prepared sometimes and ‘winged it’ only to find students completely glued to their every word. So this can take time and can be a bit ‘trial and error’. But over time one gets to be able to swiftly judge individuals and classes and to get it about right.
7. Treat everyone in the room as at least a mature and responsible adult.
Never to ‘talk down’ to students but to assume that each and every one is a fully capable person with talents and abilities beyond your comprehension. This isn’t a case of ‘coming down to their level and making friends’ but rather a ‘bringing up to at least your level and becoming colleagues’. The first is a bit cringeworthy and lessens student respect; the second almost immediately leads to more life, energy and production in the group.
Some students, especially those used to other schools, find this difficult at first. They don’t quite know what to make of a teacher who grants them so much time and power. But most grow into it and strangely enough start to become themselves the more you do this.
Regarding everyone as an adult in this way has many other benefits. If they behave foolishly, they can almost immediately see their own foolishness and can correct themselves without much input from you.
And of course the reason you treat them like that is because they really are like that, they just need to be given the chance to show it.
8. Try to handle everything within your lesson rather than referring it elsewhere.
Hardly ever send people for someone else to sort out. Use the unwritten ‘rule of thumb’: if it’s happening in your lesson, it’s your responsibility. Try to only send someone out of a lesson when they are actually preventing the lesson from taking place in some way for the rest of the class.
It’s easier than it sounds. If you assume responsibility, the actual ‘problem’ usually evaporates because the problem student realises that he or she has been ‘caught’ and corrects on the spot.
9. Don’t be afraid to wander off your plan if you have a good educational and interesting reason.
Yes, I know it said ‘Be prepared’ above, but if something happens to arise spontaneously in a lesson don’t be afraid to ‘go with the flow’ and take students on an impromptu adventure. It may put your programme of study behind, but if it engages the students and makes learning more fun or more interesting, you’ll win and they’ll win in the longer term.
Strangeness and wonder and the ideas and concepts your lessons prompt may stay with students for the rest of their lives.
It probably doesn’t need saying, but if you don’t visibly care then neither will they. This can be taken to extremes of course, but if you simply show due diligence and a certain amount of interest in them as people, students will respond with extra effort and attention. Ignore them, brush off their originations or work, make little of them, and they’ll do the same to you.
Here’s a workable definition of a lesson which might be useful: a lesson is occurring when the students are interested in the subject and willing to talk to the teacher. Not perfect, but workable.
You may have successful actions of your own. Please record them and send them to others. Sharing our professional approaches and discoveries is, after all, for for the betterment of children everywhere.
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-Grant P. Hudson is the founder of Clarendon House Publications. Download a free catalogue here.