10 Steps to Success as a Teacher
I taught English and English Literature for about 17 years, and developed a reputation as a ‘great teacher’. It didn’t occur to me for about a year that I had any kind of flair for the job: I had had no specific professional training, no apprenticeship, very little mentoring. I had come to the job partly out of economic desperation when my other lines of income collapsed. After a while, though, I began to realise that my approach to teaching was proving successful: I was popular, which isn’t always a good guide to success, but I also got results. Many students became passionate about literature and writing because of my lessons. So I thought I would jot down some notes about the things I feel made me able to do the job:
Quite early on - in fact, from the first lesson - I stumbled on something which worked with teenagers for the next 17 years: humour.
Teenagers are often faced by a dire lack of humour in their lives. They are confronting puberty, approaching adulthood, all kinds of changes in formerly stable relationships and ways of viewing the world, and they crave laughter. It’s partly what drives what we regard as ‘teen phenomena’: partying, drugs, wild social actions. They seek the comfort that laughter brings. Humour is a release from seriousness, a relief from the growing sense of threats and penalties all around them.
But there’s no point just standing in front of a class telling jokes. Teacher-led humour is best when it is on the wavelength of the group, which means listening (see below) and being able to think quickly and wittily. If you can frame your subject with humour, you will be able to get across any number of concepts with apparent ease, as your audience will take on board information willingly and without effort if they are laughing.
Individuals and groups are not made up of fixed or solid characteristics or attributes. Things shift, change, manoeuvre constantly. The ability to detect nuances in individuals and in whole classes is a key to success in teaching. That child you might be tempted to regard as ‘challenging’ can easily be categorised and possibly dismissed, but spot the subtleties in his or her behaviour and you will get through whatever ‘shield’ is being projected and enter into communication.