Teaching may sound like an easy task but it is as daunting as any job. Having taught for a good seven years at universities, high schools and special ed schools, I have tried a bit of everything of how it is to be a teacher.
There are different strokes for different folks. That is true. For the many students and their levels that I have taught, I found special kids to be the most challenging of all. However, each student is different. There are even talented kids who could be more difficult. Coming from different backgrounds, and culture, a child’s personality is formed into something unique and complex. It is a great challenge for the teachers then to uncover the child’s strengths provided by these circumstances.
So, how do we become the best teacher there is? No, this is not a popularity contest. This is about performing on the job and giving justice to your profession. As we struggle to trudge along that path, we find ourselves building guide posts so that the next time we stumble into a crossroad so similar, we know which road to take. By building these posts, we do not aim to be recognized, but simply to satisfy ourselves. Seeing our products – our students – excel and succeed or simply hand over a comment of thanks is more than enough satisfaction for us.
This is an article devoted to teachers like me – beginners and pros alike – who are on their way to self-discovery, to greatness and to understanding the real essence of being who we are today.
The following points would be guide posts I have stood in my seven years of teaching. These posts remind me to become the teacher I wished I had once upon a time.
- Make your class rules and goals clear. Do this at the beginning of the semester. By pointing out which you expect them to do and not do, you run into less trouble of encountering these situations in the future. My class rules, however, are not so strict. These include a U-shape seating arrangement where I can see everyone, and a 'talk to me' policy once a week; I need to hear a student talk in the form of recitation or question. It is also a must that students talk to me in English since that is what I teach. Right before the major exams are conducted, I also ask students which lessons they are confident about. I tally the majority and set up free classes at the end of the week where anybody who feels they need to hear it one more time can attend.
- Understand what you are teaching. Teaching is not just going in front and mimicking the book. My first rule is to never teach what I do not know or understand, or I will be in danger of misinforming my students. You also avoid running into risks like answering questions you are not sure how to reply to. I also try to explain theories and concepts in my own words and let students do the same. Also, it is easier to check if they understand the lesson or not.
- Get savvy with the Internet. If you are not, now is the time! A modern teacher should be knowledgeable about using computers and the Internet. You are missing out on a lot of information that could help you improve your teaching if you are not. I get most of my articles from the web. I get interactive activities from various sites to implement in my classes, which they enjoy very much.
- Listen to students when they talk. Be it a complaint, an answer to a recitation, an impolite question about the subject topic or something not related to the subject matter, just listen! These are ways that students communicate with you and an opportunity to find out more about them. I never tell a student that he’s got the wrong answer. And I never get irritated when they say they don’t understand my lesson. I see all of these as a room for improvement for both of us. Students also seem more open to you when you do this. If a student and a teacher have a comfortable relationship, more learning takes place.
- Do not insult students. I had been insulted by my teachers many times when I was in school and all of these instances have never helped me become a better individual. Instead, I developed a fear of humiliation. I had good use of this experience though -- I never try insulting students. A quick, sharp look is so much better than discriminating words. You would be amazed how a smile could even obligate children to focus. These and other strategies which are not demeaning are good ways to demand discipline. Also, you are not held responsible for instilling a low self-esteem in them. Reverse psychology works best especially with problem kids. You should try it. It worked well for me!
- Evaluate your class’ strengths and weaknesses. It will be too much if I ask you to do a SWOT Analysis, but if you feel comfortable doing it, then, why not? Or simply, assess your class by their performance and determine the gray areas that you need to tap into once in a while. My students are particularly having a difficult time in grammar and once a week, I make sure I have tiny, short lessons meant for it. A whole straight week of grammar could be boring. So, I try to stretch it into pieces. I make interactive activities to help them absorb it. There are many helpful materials online that you can use. You just need to find them.
- Make great tests. To define a test in my manner of understanding would be difficult. It would probably take another How To article to discuss it fully. But to characterize a great test would be easy! It should not only prompt students to recall details such as names, dates and processes, but also it should move them to discriminate possible answers. This exercises their ability to analyze.
While some would say that giving an essay question is being lazy, if the question is carefully concocted, it would actually be a good occasion for the student to organize his thoughts and write! As a teacher, I am often unpredictable. I give objective tests and essays. In so doing, I have seen how my students improved in their writing and way of thinking. I am also fond of injecting recitation into my strategies. Students fear it at first, but as time goes by, they have learnt to deal with this fear and turn it into something constructive. Later, I see more hands raised up in the air when I throw them a question, and even more guts to ask me questions when I am discussing.
Also, never duplicate exams. This happens mostly when a teacher is teaching the same subject to several sections. By doing this, we are encouraging our students to cheat!
- Recognize talents and efforts. It is very easy to recognize talents of children who are gifted. Also, the school gives them honors for being smart every end of each semester. But the real hard work and what we as teachers must be concerned about is to really recognize talents in problem kids. My strategy is to always notice troublesome kids. I believe that smart students would perform anyway even if you leave them alone. So, I put much effort into children needing my attention. You would be surprised at how much talent and skills they have. And provided they are recognized, they will start to listen to you more.
Recognition could be in the form of talking with them once in awhile. I talk to these kids everyday. I give them roles and leadership obligations once in awhile and I do not take no for answer! I always see them trying, hoping not to disappoint me. I make sure that I communicate to them the trust I have for them and that they can do what I am passing on to them. Mind you, I have seen several kids improve on this strategy alone. And when tasks are done, I give benefits when they deserve it.
- Take careful note of students' progress and let them know about it. Before I return a major exam’s test papers, I always jot something below addressed to the student. It’s like “Dear Pete, you did wonderfully in Test 1. I knew you could do it! But maybe you should study more so you could answer essay questions better! Maybe, just listen more to me during class because that’s where you find most of the answers!” My children become very excited when I give them back the test papers. They know I would always have my ‘love note’ for them. Yes, it takes more time that it should, but the results are worth it!
- Talk with parents. For sure, a teacher cannot successfully teach a child without a parent’s cooperation. It is therefore important to establish a good relationship with your student’s parents. You could do so in PTA meetings. Or simply give them a call if their child performs well in school and not just because they misbehaved. I have come to learn this very important aspect of teaching children when I started to teach special kids. These children develop knowledge by routine and experience. A child only spends a few hours in school, thus, without a parent’s help, the kids will never learn.