This will probably be the first and last time I publish two posts on consecutive days. Yall are lucky the beginning of the semester is so chill. In fact, don’t expect another post for the rest of the semester. #justkidding #butnotreally
Anyway, the first official day of classes for the University of Pittsburgh was yesterday (although my first class wasn’t until today). The streets of Pittsburgh are once again packed with idiot undergraduates and graduate students (sike, the grad students are locked in their labs). My commute to campus takes twice as long now because of the influx of people using the bus system and along the way I get to see what I assume are liberal arts majors sitting outside on the grass “chillaxing” while I pray that a swarm of cicadas attacks the person who invented the word “chillax”. Coincidentally, I also started watching season 4 of The Wire, which focuses on the shitty Baltimore City school system (seven episodes in and this season is already my favorite, but f*** Marlo Stanfield).
Because of the new school year beginning, CNN decided to have a “Fix Our Schools” week where they highlight different topics. Today on their website, they asked the question “What makes a great teacher?”
I hope to become a teacher and run a lab when I graduate from here. I can definitely say that I have a passion to teach. The crazy thing is that it’s something that manifested itself just a year ago. It started out as a passion to lead, then to mentor, and now to teach in a classroom setting, which are passions that aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe that in order to be an effective teacher, you have to have a passion to lead and mentor. There’s nothing worse than a teacher without the burning desire to develop kids who enjoy learning. It’s always so evident in their demeanor. They make class boring, ineffective, and kill a child’s desire to learn. So that got me thinking, what are some other things that make a teacher great? What are some of the things that I plan to do as a teacher that (I hope) will make me great?
- Treat students like adults
Some teachers like to play the alpha-male role. Me teacher. You kid. Me smart. You dumb. The teacher’s word is gospel (even when they’re wrong) cause they’ve been in the game for 421 years and worked for Important Corporation, Inc. for 210 years. By doing this, the students are given no room to have their own thoughts and are less likely to respect their teacher. Students should always remember that the teacher is in charge and obviously more experienced, but teachers should make sure their students feel like they have something to contribute to the class as well. Build self-esteem as well as respect.
- Lecture less, discuss more
I hate lectures with a passion. Don’t get me wrong, they’re actually very useful and necessary. There isn’t a better way to introduce large quantities of information to students than having you present them with information while they’re quietly sleeping taking notes. However, lectures don’t allow students to be active. Students need to be actively participating to help keep them focused. Sometimes it’s damn near impossible to get kids to be active, so lesson plans should have sections that nurture participation as best as possible. Notice I didn’t say “require/force participation” because you want your students to make the choice to participate, otherwise you’re not really reaching them. Teachers don’t only need to know how to talk, but how to listen as well.
- Expect more from my students and myself
Some teachers hinder their students’ intellectual growth because they’re too lazy to challenge them more, don’t believe that they can succeed, and/or have their hands tied by the strict curriculum they must adhere to. Students shouldn’t be assigned astrophysics problems in the 3rd grade, but nothing good comes from codling them either. Push the boundaries of their knowledge and allow them to test their limits. In addition to that, teachers have to meet the challenge that they place on their students. Provide additional support and guidance while still allowing them to “figure it out” on their own.
- Make it fun
The number one killer of students’ attention during classes are boring lessons. Students are more engaged and focused when they’re having fun or being entertained. I’m not saying construct a physics and biology lesson plan around a game of beer pong (although it would be a great lesson), but sometimes you have to incorporate something entertaining in your lesson to keep your students focused. That can even be you! I’ve spoken to high school graduates who sat through an entire lecture on Control Theory and were able to not only stay awake, but pay attention and learn from it because the lecturer was so excited and energetic the entire time that his energy spread to the other students. Teachers shouldn’t compromise their lesson, but making it fun goes a long way.
- Adapt to my students
Possibly the most important thing for a great teacher to be able to do is adapt. A teacher has to be able to change when necessary. No two students are made alike and that means that not everyone learns the same way or has the same passion for learning. Unfortunately, this obviously provides more work for a teacher (see how a passion for teaching is very useful?). Some teachers instead try to get the student to adhere to their way of teaching. While that can work sometimes, it more often than not leaves at least a child or two behind. Teachers can adapt by seeking out students having trouble and providing extra help after-hours, slowing down/speeding up lesson plans, or adjusting the focus of a lesson to a different topic. Basically, teachers can’t be afraid to make sacrifices so that their students can benefit.
Of course, the students themselves and their parents also hold a lot of responsibility in regards to a student’s success in school, but what are some other things that make a teacher great? Can you think of some of your favorite teachers and how they caught your attention? What are some of the things holding teachers back from really reaching their students? You stay classy, San Diego.