Sharing a lifelong passion for history, writing and teaching

Learn how to teach

What brought you here?   I’m guessing you are interested in wanting to learn how to teach.

Well, you’re in luck; the internet is awash with advice on innumerable topics related to ‘learn how to teach’, like ‘what makes a good teacher’, ‘successful teacher’, the bare ‘a good teacher’, and many others.  So. . . 

Your problem is not shortage of advice; it will be the excess of it.  How to deal with it?

Even before you resort to the net, you will have come across the veteran or the expert who will reduce it all to a simple sentence.  Along the lines of:  ‘How to be a good batsman?  You just put the bat to the ball.’ Or ‘How to be a good actor?  Learn the lines and don’t bump into the furniture.’  ‘A good writer?  Just tell the tale.’

What use are these cliches?

Well, to their credit, they are probably direct, honest, possibly heartfelt too, and based on deep experience.  They are also smart, slick, often entertaining, and quotable, and because of that they are suspect.   No worthwhile activity is so simple that it can be summed up in a single phrase or sentence.

Teaching tips have their share of wisecracks too.  By all means listen to them; laugh at them if you like.  Chew them over.  But don’t swallow them whole.

They may suggest that the business is simple, but even if they are right, something that is simple is not necessarily easy.  And you can’t build a career on them.  There’s more to it than that.   Such as. . . 

Your own judgment

This has to be the most important element in the mix, not the advice.  However impressive are the credentials of the expert who is going to show you how to be a successful teacher, his advice has to make sense to you. If you aim to be a good teacher you must trust your own judgment.  You are the one out front putting it over.  You are the one who gets the cheers or the jeers.  As I have said elsewhere, if you don’t buy it, you won’t be able to sell it.

You are on your own

Never forget – it is just you and them.  Of course there is team teaching, but I have done little of it, and I don’t feel qualified to pontificate on it.  What concerns me in these remarks is what happens between a teacher, on his own, in a room, and group of young people, day in day out, helping them to learn.  That is where the hard graft is, where the grief is; that is where the satisfaction is.  If you want to learn how to teach, the top and bottom of it is learning how to handle a class. 

Reflections on 40 years of classroom teaching

They need to feel satisfied too

Satisfied.   Not living on cloud nine all the time.  Don’t feel that to be a successful teacher you must move and inspire them with every single lesson.  What makes a successful teacher is being able to keep their interest, not just catch it; anybody can do that.  Keep them going, keep them happy, accepting habit, routine, humdrummery (that is what a lot of life is about).  Just bowl along in a friendly, purposeful, well-occupied sort of way. 

The wisecrackers have a point:  tell the tale; learn the lines, don’t bump into the furniture.  It’s the same for you:  get the work done; cover the ground.  Achieve something.  If they feel they have got somewhere, then so have you.  Then you can call yourself a successful teacher.

You are a valuable minority

What makes a good teacher – among other things – is an awareness of your own worth.  Don’t berate yourself because you have times when you feel tired, impatient, lazy, depressed, diffident, and a host of other things.   So does everybody, in every other job.  We’re all human.  Just try not to let it show.  What will make you a good teacher is to be aware of it, and to know that you have the character, skill, and experience to get through these bad times. 

Nine out of ten of us would not go near teaching.  The world needs you.  The very, very greatest people in human history were teachers.

So – this is not advice; it is about advice, and how to handle it, and how to use it.  It is also about trusting yourself; it is about being alone; it is about trusting them too.  And it is about remembering that you are just a little bit special.  Not a lot; but a bit.

Expect the best from yourself, yes, but not perfection.

Take a look a this short video on the importance of good manners in teaching

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Berwick Coates