AI: Teaching

Today, I embark on a new adventure: teaching apprenticeship school. I’ll be attempting to pass along some of the knowledge and experience I’ve gained working in my trade to people who may or may not be interested in learning about it. Needless to say, I’m a little nervous.

What makes a good teacher?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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  1. A good teacher is must have certain qualities.
    -be engaging with the students
    -challenge them to think
    -enthusiasm for the position

    I’m sure there is more but I don’t want to swamp the thread so early. Congrats Carrie I’m sure you will be just fine.

  2. What Northernskeptic said, but also,

    -know (find out) what your students know and don’t know
    -be flexible, calm, creative
    -smile, enjoy what you’re doing! You’re sharing something you love with other people. It should be fun!

  3. I’m treating my students not like kids, but as people who want to learn. I’m still new to this, and in a different scenario than you are: almost all my students want to be there. I’ve heard my teacher-colleagues talk to their students like idiot-adults or like baby-children who don’t have minds or personalities of their own….it made me throw up a little in my mouth.

    Be yourself, but don’t loose your authority. I did that on my first student and it’s gonna be hell trying to get him to pay attention now.

  4. Patience.

    I usually have one or two graduate placement students (what americans call “interns”) on the go at once. In fact, I’m getting a new one on Monday who’s doing part of his pre-registra rotation with me in the Lab. I swear they get dumber every year.

    They always always think they know everything when the actually know nothing, ‘cos you actually learn it all on the job.

    To date, I’ve had 5 small explosions, 1 case of accidental self-poisoning and 1 person set fire to themselves. And these are people who already have degrees.

    I dread to think what it must be like with kids…

  5. I taught for a few months once. It was stressful, the people I was teaching mostly didn’t give a shit, but in the end, it was quite rewarding. I ain’t doing it again though.

    I’m sure it’ll be different for you though!

  6. Treat students with respect.

    Understand that they may have had crappy teachers in the past or a crappy home life. I.e., there may be a reason they are at a lower-than-expected educational level despite being in your class — it doesn’t mean they are dumb and can’t learn, just that they haven’t and have a lot of catching up to do. In other words, don’t give up on them on the first day of class.

  7. A good teacher can teach in the manner best suited to each student, not just in the way that they learned the topic. This means having multiple ways of approaching the same idea.

    I’ve personally had some success with the 4MAT approach – it might be worth checking out. I like it because it offers a method of going through several different styles without being rigid.

  8. As a current student, my ideas of a good teacher are mainly based on my best and worst teachers.

    Good Teachers:
    -Actually enjoy what they’re teaching.
    -Have good communication skills, to teach both a large group in a classroom setting, as well as one-on-one tutoring.
    -Be able to find creative strategies of teaching, to differentiate for the top and bottom students in the classroom.
    -Not put too much of their personal views into the subject.
    -Respect their students, and can adjust to any level in an instant.

    Bad teachers:
    -Don’t like to teach
    -Don’t know how to communicate ideas
    -Insert their personal philosophies into their curriculum (i.e. my two creationist English teachers who failed me on papers relating to plate tectonics and dinosaurs)
    -Teach well to one extreme, usually the lower end of the class, leaving the top students bored and frustrated.
    -Generally don’t like kids
    -Talk down to students. Really, we aren’t babies. We don’t need the baby talk.

    Creative learning strategies are preferable to rote memorization as well. If class is interesting, students tend to enjoy it more, regardless of how good the teacher is. Though, often, the good teachers have interesting and engaging assignments anyway, so it works out well.

  9. A good teacher knows the subject well enough to communicate it in plain english, is enthusiastic about the subject, is observant enough to know whether the message is getting across and caring enough to adapt the presentation, if necessary, to keep the students engaged.

    I had a Physics professor who spoke with a heavy German accent. He stood with his back to the class, writing on the board with his right hand and erasing what he wrote with his left hand. You were responsible for getting down what he was saying in that space between the right and left hand. Needless to say, he never took questions from the class.

    Do the opposite.

  10. @Ali Marie: “Actually enjoy what they’re teaching.”

    It’s so true. For me, I was amazed at the difference in my own performance between classes where the prof was boring and uninterested and the classes where the prof was engaged and enthusiastic.

  11. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something. Instead of making something up (or worse, telling them they don’t need to know that), tell them you’ll try and find the answer for them. Or even better, help them figure out how to find the answer.

  12. Definitely enthusiasm. That underlying love of the subject that makes you want to discover why the teacher is so excited about this stuff.

    I had a math teacher who went off on a glorious tangent at the beginning of the year. Showing how all math is just links in an endlessly branching chain. Learning the links will get you from 2+2 = 4 to measuring the weight of an atom, or designing a building. Best of all, each link alone is pretty easy.

    It was darn inspiring.

  13. The teachers that I have enjoyed most were those who were intensely interested both in their subject and in the subject of how to teach well. It’s a powerful combination!

  14. My favourite teachers were always firm and fair, and completely passionate about their subject. As a teacher myself, the best advice I got was what I have put below this:

    clear instuctions
    consistent behaviour, mood, (fair)
    calm, in control
    connected, take in interest in them beyond the classroom
    consequences, which are appropriate, timely and fair

  15. A teacher should listen and learn as well as teach. Sometimes kids have trouble making themselves understood and finding people who will take the time to believe in them. Teachers have a lot to share and a lot of good to do, and do important work, but if their messages aren’t getting across then they are not accomplishing their purpose.

  16. Know and love your subject.
    Have a conversation with your class, not a lecture.
    Be yourself, don’t try to ‘act’ the role of a teacher.
    Never be afraid to be silly, but use it as a spice, not the main dish.
    When working one-on-one, never fear going to far forward or back. There are no cliffs in either direction.
    Have fun and your students will also.

  17. Don’t wait to address a problem or issue. If there is a problem, address the student one-on-one and not in front of the entire class. I really hate when teachers try to humiliate students.

    A sense of humor goes a long way, but don’t be too over the top about it.

  18. Always try and relate what you’re teaching to something they already know. For example, I had to teach a class about numbers in different bases last week. Before I even got started on that though I quickly reminded them what it means to say something like 284 (2 hundreds, 8 tens, 4 units) and that we count in groups of tens. They already knew and understood this system perfectly and so learning to express numbers in a different base was now just a matter of thinking of groups of 6 instead of 10 for instance.

    Can I ask everyone what it means to them to ‘talk down to students’ or ‘talk to them like little children’? A lot of people have suggested don’t do this, but I don’t think I understand the suggestion. Surely teachers don’t go into classes and start saying “goochy goochy goo’ to their students, or belittle their intelligence?

  19. First impressions matter. On the first day they (both your students and your mentor teacher) don’t know who you are, but they’ll give you role of “teacher” as a default. Claim it. On the first day, no matter how inadequate you feel, you’re the grown-up. Once you’ve claimed that role, you are free to step out of it and be the friendly teacher. But if you don’t claim it, it’s much harder to work your way back up to it.

    You aren’t their friend, not matter how much you would like the be the “cool” teacher. You can be friendly, you can be approachable, but don’t be their friend. Never involve them with your personal life or your problems. Be helpful, but stay out of any drama.

    Be prepared, but don’t sound rehearsed. It’s more important to know the material you want to address than it is to know how you want to phrase it. Think about questions that make the student think. Critical thinking skills are important at all ages. Prepare them (or steal them from someone else) beforehand.

  20. Patience, enthusiasm and adaptability. Students are all different, and groups of students all have different dynamics. Add a teacher, and you never know what you’ll get. Something that works with one group may not work in another. Something that works in one group on a Tuesday morning may fall flat with the same group during the last class on Friday. So be ready to, and willing to adapt.

  21. I believe what makes a good teacher is the ability to present material succinctly in multiple different ways to be absorbed by different types of learning styles. To take material you have passion for and be able to craft it to pique the interests and passion of people with different personality types is the mark of an excellent academic leader.

  22. My immediate response to the question:
    Ability to explain things multiple ways.
    Concrete, real-world examples when possible.

    These comments are fantastic, and I’m taking mental notes for myself. I’ve been told I’m a good teacher, but I’ve got quite a ways to go before I’m the kind of teacher I want to be. When initially thinking about this question I hadn’t thought about the importance of enthusiasm, but, yes, that’s incredibly important as well. My general Motto for Life is “What I lack in skill I try to make up for with enthusiasm.”

  23. I second (third? fifteenth?) patience. I have to remind myself constantly to be patient, partly because I teach first grade, but it’s relevant to all grade levels.

    Also, be approachable. Most students are nervous about asking questions, even (especially) when you invite them to.

    Enjoy your students, as well. I forgot to do that a lot, last year, and I suffered for it. This year, I’m trying to focus on the things I love about each of my students (especially the ones that frustrate me). It’s working.

  24. My wife has been voted the most popular prof at her uni a couple of times and my take is:
    she likes most of her students and treats them with respect, is passionate about what she teaches and leads by example. She teaches public speaking, communication and story telling and is a tough grader with waiting lists for all her classes. She is also a firm believer that in education and business an engaged leader is always more effective than the most knowledgeable boss.

    For me my memories of the teachers who were the most effective and enjoyable are always connected to teachers who were the most passionate about their respective subjects.

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