May 22, 2005

What are the keys to teaching?

Patience and respect are the keys to teaching anyone. Patience first. Understanding that we are all flawed, and no one is perfect helps. We all can learn, in our own way, at our own pace. It is the job of the teacher to both learn how to reach the students, and recognize their individual abilities.

A patient man or woman is a powerful person. Being quick to listen, and slow to speak is not only divine wisdom, but also practical strategy. Too often teachers are more interested in what they are teaching, then in how best to teach it. I am guilty of this, along with most of my colleagues. Enthusiasm is important, but not at the cost of losing the audience. Taking time to get to know the student, or students is key. Discovering how they will be most successful is both an Art and a science. The more time a teacher has spent getting to know their students, the more successful they can be at delivering a lesson. But just knowing students well is not enough. Patiently learning what works best in the classroom, whether it be a teaching strategy, or beneficial example that makes a specific point, separates the ineffective teacher from those who are considered "great."

The teacher must recognize their own shortcomings and inabilities. Students always do, and usually right away. The failing teacher is the one who fails to identify their own weaknesses before stepping up to the lectern. True, I cannot help you pull the toothpick out of your own eye while I have a fence post blinding mine, but knowing that the fence post is sticking blatantly out of my face, and using it to help humanize myself in front of my students, helps me connect with them, and consequently, capture their attention, and steel their will to learn from just another human being, and not some holier-than-thou monk of instruction.

If we teachers are to successfully communicate anything to our kids we must first respect them. Combine the unaware with the disrespectful, and you have a classroom nightmare with little chance of daybreak. Students do no respect teachers who do not respect themselves, or their students. And today's students will refuse to perform, or even attend the class of an individual who treats them with anything less than complete respect. Times have changed.

I believe that we were all created as equal individuals with a purpose for our lives. Being older or smarter does not make one better; It only makes one older and smarter. But how wise is it to serve disingenuously those who we are committed to help improve? Many teachers hold their students in complete disdain. They loath the classroom and everything about it. Some are simply, "putting in their time towards retirement." What a shame. How foolish it is to lose sight of the potential of all people. However, its difficult to see the light in others, when our own lights shine so dimly.

If we are to be successful with our students, and make no mistake about it, our future depends on this success, then we must be patient stewards of the trust put into our hands when parents lovingly send their children into our domains. We must be patient, even with the least of them. We must patiently seek the best way to help them help themselves, and teach them to survive without our assistance. We must respect their individuality, and their potential. We must treat our jobs and our selves with respect, even when the world around us does not.

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