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Better lessons: 5 good practices

How to be a better teacher: Good practices

Five good practices for teaching better lessons

If you want to be a better teacher, obviously you must put together better lessons. How do you do that? Know your stuff. Equally obvious. So much of this business of good teaching is. It’s not rocket science. You just need to stop to think of it. Nevertheless, there is more to it than mere knowledge. Like what?

1. Be clear

Teaching better lessons is not so much collecting knowledge yourself as getting it across to somebody else.  Of course knowledge matters, and pupils should be taught to respect scholarship, but if a teacher cannot communicate his knowledge, sooner or later a pupil will begin to wonder what is the point of sitting in the classroom.

Half your preparation for a lesson should indeed be spent on assembling the required knowledge, but the other half should be devoted to making that knowledge digestible and comprehensible.  (And, if possible, enjoyable, but that’s a bonus; that’s the advanced course.)  But be clear – above all, clear.

You cannot expect them to stay willing if the fog gets thicker and thicker. 

You can’t expect them to like it if they don’t understand it.

If they don’t grab it off the bat, they won’t hold it; every time you try to get some more knowledge in during the next lesson, it gets harder, because they have less and less to hook it on to.

Constantly re-examine your instructions, questions, explanations, your teaching methods.  Are they clear?  Making lessons better is often simply about being clearer.

Oddly, the more expert you become at what you are teaching, the bigger the danger of not being clear, because the repetition makes it so easy to you that you can forget that you once found it new, and hard.  It is still hard for them because they haven’t met it before. It is so easy to skip stages in learning because you’re so good at it. A good teacher understands bafflement.

2. Be fair

This again is so obvious, isn’t it?  It’s like saying ‘be good’ or ‘be virtuous’. True.  But nevertheless you have to be careful here.  The young have an acute sense of justice (or what they see as justice).  Their respect for what is ‘fair’ can sometimes be somewhat overblown.

It can be painful for them to learn that ‘being fair’ is not the only virtue.

There will be times when you are caught being unfair as they see it (you are human).  If it is a fair cop, then of course you must apologise, and do your best to repair the damage. But there will be other times when you know you are being unfair, for a good reason, and those occasions need to be explained.  If you make a good case, they will often listen.  Sometimes they don’t, because they too are human, and you will have to put up with their grudge, and hope to live it down with more fairness later on.

On Teaching, Better lesson and how to be a better teacher
My teaching memoirs, sharing stories and lessons from 40 years in the classroom

3. Be reasonable 

By the time a child reaches school age, he/she has just begun to cotton on to the fact that other people exist, and have wishes and desires just as they have, and those wishes and desires are as valid as theirs.

This is one of the pennies that drops perhaps slowest of all, and it is up to the teacher to give the slot machine a little clout now and then to hasten the process.  A good teacher knows when to give that clout, and how hard.

It will help if you try to be reasonable yourself.  Make yourself aware of the effects on your class of what you say and do.  How do they see it? Again, without trying to be too virtuous, we are talking about example.  They can’t define what ‘being reasonable’ is, but they recognise its value, and they know it when they see it.  They also know when it is not there.

4. Be still 

Put simply, are you a stander or a wanderer?  As far as I am aware, the experts offer no definitive answer. Do you want to be a focus or a moving target?  Does stillness bring peace and more concentration?  Does prowling give an aid to class control?  You don’t have to make a lifelong decision; different situations may demand different techniques.

If you need a hook to hang on to, I suggest the idea of comfort.  The better lessons are the comfortable ones.  Stillness may be more conducive to that than movement.   But it’s a personal thing.  If a teacher’s natural classroom teaching method puts him on the move, and they are happy with it, then so be it. Children will tolerate remarkable things if they feel comfortable.

5. Be busy

Don’t let gaps grow.  Make sure in your preparation that you are not going to run out of material. You are more likely to get trouble when they’re idle then when they’re busy.  Concentration is catching, like the measles.  A good teacher can transmit it.  It takes a really ill-disposed pupil to sit back and think up a disturbance when heads are down and all the pens are scratching away. That pupil will be out of the normal run, and you may need assistance.  A good teacher will usually spot the maverick.

This is why visitors can be such a pain.  You have worked hard to create a moment. You’ve really got them going. You can hear them listening.  Then a messenger comes in to talk about the school dentist.  When he’s left, that moment may have gone for good. Have something in reserve to plug the gap.

But when it goes right, it is the best classroom teaching method of all concentration.  A class concentrating is an unmistakable noise.

They don’t mind being busy.   

Events sure beat boredom. Most people, of any age, like being busy.   You can’t beat work.

Summary – Five good practices for teaching better lessons: Be clear; be fair; be reasonable; be still; be busy.

If you don’t find something for them to do, they will.                                   


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Berwick Coates