How to Be an Effective Teacher (Part One)

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Almost every teacher has had one of those classes that seems chronically unable to behave.  Perhaps class members have attendance problems; perhaps they don’t listen when the teacher (you) is speaking.  Maybe it’s just a general laxness in their attitude toward learning.  Whatever the cause of stress or lack of learning in your class, usually it’s just a matter of keeping the class stimulated and interested in the material you are presenting.  The following classroom elements can often bring their attention back and, in the process, help improve retention and engagement (to say nothing of lowering your blood pressure.)  If you use humor, allow some down time for learners to absorb information, and relate to your students, you will find that their performance will greatly improve.

Although some might scoff at the notion of bringing humor into the classroom, it is actually one of the best tools for keeping the classroom engaged and focused.  In general, it allows your learners to see you as a human being, rather than as some foreign “other” attempting to keep them under control (they don’t have to know that your use of humor is just that, a control mechanism.)  What’s more, it keeps the class focused on you, because humor renders you the center of attention.  In general, it is a good idea to begin every class with a splash of humor, to make sure the class day begins with a focus on you.  However, a word of caution.  Don’t overuse humor, and don’t use it as a substitute for actual classroom material. 

Depending on how long your classroom time is, I recommend giving your students a five-minute break to allow that days material to sink in.  Where you place this break is entirely up to you.  If you have a longer class, you can place it in the middle, dividing the class in half; if you have a shorter one, you may give the class five minutes at the end of class to let the information covered during class that day to fully sink in.  You might even consider giving them some trivia to do, either based on classroom material or unrelated, depending on the complexity of the material.  Allowing them to have this down time allows their minds to start putting the information together more effectively, and trivia can often be a very useful retention tool.

Effectively relating to your students is perhaps the greatest way to keep their attention on you.  If you start off class by emphasizing your status as opposed to theirs, you will set yourself up for failure.  Often, you will have two or three students who will take your posturing as a challenge and will do everything in their power to disrupt class.  The key, therefore, is to establish a good rapport with every member of the class, being sure to keep  a level amount of rapport with each class member.  Nothing creates friction in a class more than perceived favoritism.  Also, be sure that you do not cross the line between friendship and teacher; you are not their friend, you are their leader and their supervisor.

Teaching a class, whether of adults or children or something in between, can often be a challenging experience.  There will always be at least one person in the class who does not really want to learn and who will have no qualms about letting you and the class know that fact.  However, if you keep the class stimulated, develop a good relationship with them by revealing your humanity, and liven the class up with humor, you can overcome even the most challenging students.  In doing so you will not only enhance the learning experience for your students, but also make the teaching experience more fulfilling for you.


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