February 04, 2008

Nuts and Bolts?

I don’t write much about the nuts and bolts of teaching. Mostly thats because I feel like its already been covered… extensively. But I do think that there are four major areas that ALL teachers should focus on if they desire to be effective in the classroom. Those four areas include: relationship, management, instruction, and assessment.

Relationship: How a teacher changes the lives of their students.
Why start with relationship? Why jump right in with the warm and fuzzies? Well, my experience is that students simply respond better and work harder and achieve more when they know that their teachers are genuinely concerned about the success of their students and the quality of the students’ lives. This can be expressed through a variety of styles and approaches; everything from the drill sergeant to the namby-pamby. It’s not how the teachers expresses their interest and concern for the students, its simply that the teacher communicates clearly with their pupils that they matter, that their success not only in class, but also in life is important, and that each and every child can and will make a significant contribution to the world. Not all teachers are loved, but then, that’s not the point. They don’t have to like us, and we don’t always have to like them. I write a lot about the importance of relationship because I am convinced that it is at the core of my success with students, and why I keep getting so many coming back to visit me. Those alumni recognize me as an individual in their lives who not only saw their potential, but also gave them an avenue to achieve what they only dreamed was possible.

Management: How a teacher prepares the environment, the curriculum, and the experience that they provide to the students in their classrooms.
Students cannot learn in unorganized chaos. This should be obvious. Every teacher credential program teaches about rules, consequences and consistency. That is a good thing. Every classroom should have clearly stated, posted, and enforced rules that govern the behavior or EVERYONE (yes, even the teacher) between bells. But effective classroom management transcends the rules and regulations. How the rules are established, and by what means they are enforced is less important than how the teacher engages the student in learning. Students who are actively engaged in the learning process have no time to throw paper, go to the bathroom, and annoyingly touch each other. Sure, there are always a few in every class that never seem to get it. And yes, it is vitally important that those who do not wish to play along are publically addressed and that the rules are enforced. As teachers we have to hope that someday these knuckleheads will understand that its way more fun to operate successfully within the rules then it is to rebel and be left standing cold and wet out of the pool. Your classroom management style should reflect your own learning style and be comfortable for you, the teacher. If you are relaxed in your classroom excited to be there and ready to work, your students will be too.

Instruction: How a teacher delivers the content through effective and engaging teaching methods that challenge the students to reach beyond their personal expectations.
I believe that the best defense is a good offence and that offence is established through instruction. I also believe that less is more. The nature of project-based courses is that there is less talking and more doing. That doesn’t work for every subject. But in every subject there is always a way to strike a balance that avoids the monotone hum-drum direct delivery of difficult content, and that can be both exciting and invigorating for the students. The first step is the teacher’s passion for the subject. I’m not passionate about Physics so I’d be a lousy physics teacher. However I have a colleague who is drop-dead crazy about physics, and his passion is so intoxicating that his students leave his classroom everyday craving more. Born from his passion for the subject the physics teachers has discovered a method of instruction that turns one of the most difficult subjects taught on campus into one of the most popular courses on campus. We have similar teachers for Latin, AP European History, and Statistics. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to instruction so don’t be afraid to experiment a little. There’s nothing worse then the teacher who is stuck in the book lecturing for 53 minutes every period while their pupils doze off into the abyss of boredom. C’mon, change it up a little.

Assessment: How a teacher determines the effectiveness of their instructions and makes appropriate adjustments to better develop their students abilities.
The onus is on the teacher to do everything in his or her power to provide the students with real opportunities to experience success, or failure. Assessment comes in many colors and flavors, all good. And like instruction, there is no one best practice to always use. I see assessment as an opportunity for kids to experience real-world success. Sure, it’s easier to grade a multiple choice test, or assign an essay, but those are only two potential methods. I like assessments that force students to not only show what they have learned, but also apply that new information. I also like to asks students to work together to problem solve. Strict deadlines and sharing their work publically such as on the web, or even posting it in the classroom (the work, not the scores) is always effective. An assessment that does not offer students an opportunity to fail is useless. Teachers who are afraid to fail students do the failing students a real disservice. When a child receives a D- they are often not required to go back and analyze what they did wrong. Whe whole experience is dismissed and little or nothing is learned. Any activity that better prepares kids for what they will actually face as adults is good assessment to me.


  1. A food for thought post. I like it!

  2. >Teachers who are afraid to fail students do the failing students a real disservice.<

    Good teachers must be honest!


  3. I really liked what you said about building a relationship with students. The children in our classrooms are not just students that we have to teach a subject to, it is our job to enrich their lives!