Because life is a series of edits

Char’s Top Ten Teaching Tricks

In Family, Pop Culture, Westminster on August 14, 2007 at 6:44 am

My mother, Charlotte, just retired in May after 30+ years teaching high school English. As this will be her first August without having to prep for school, I thought I’d better ask for her top ten teaching suggestions before she forgot them all. Here’s what she emailed me:

  1. Establish a seating chart at the beginning, but allow time for schedule changes. Some of my colleagues would allow students to sit where they wanted, and they all would end up at the back of the room. I always wanted them under my nose!
  2. Greet students cheerfully. You may be the only one to do this in their day.
  3. Have high expectations, but be realistic.
  4. Dress professionally, even though others don’t.
  5. Be alert to students whose eyes are focused on their laps – they’re probably texting!
  6. You gotta have a gimmick – a daily trivia question written on the board works well here. I always used the question cards from the Trivial Pursuit game. The first person to answer as the students come into the room gets a piece of peppermint candy, which enhances higher level thinking skills.
  7. Surprise the kids once in a while by diverting from the syllabus (Thoreau would love you for this).
  8. Be consistent in routine and discipline.
  9. Take care of discipline problems yourself, as much as you can.
  10. Be real and enjoy your students.

School starts tomorrow. Anybody else got any counsel you’d like to share?

  1. be a jerk the first few weeks,
    it’s easier to lighten up after being strict and mean than it is to crack down after being everybody’s friend, i learned this the hard way and discipline was a lot harder, future years i started off trying to be the mean teacher and had less problems

  2. your mom’s suggestions sound great! my guess is that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree and you will do great!

  3. Display your dry humor to them to warm them up, if they don’t get your humor now they will learn to appreciate it later in the semester. Consider this part of the education you are imparting to them.

  4. Personally, I’m not a fan of “don’t smile until Oct.” Being yourself AND not letting them get away with the small stuff worked for me. But, I also had 4th graders.

    Either way practice the “teacher’s glare.” Your kids will probably get a kick out of it.

    AND…I once heard about this boy (about the 80’s) in your mom’s class who sat in the back row and harassed her ALL the time. Was she miss judging his character by letting him sit back there or was he her favorite?

    I’m sure you’ll knock ’em out. (with humor or the eraser)

  5. Your mom seriously rocks.

  6. Craig, kudos to Charlotte in her great wisdom. Thanks Char!

    One thing I always found was important to keep in mind: your students are not “kids” but are people, created in the image of God, (many of them) brothers and sisters in Christ, and who were being grown into adults. Thus, they deserve a level of dignity that should ooze out of a classroom. I tried to always keep in my what an honor and privilege it was to be asked to teach them, and how I was effectively partnering with their parents in a task delegated directly from them.

    This totally shaped the dynamics of my classroom, and it was modeled after some great men who had shown me what it meant to really be a teacher. CTS offers a few such– think Jerram Barrs, Don Guthrie, Hans Bayer, Zack Eswine, Jay Sklar.

    I know your heart is burdened with this as well; it’s one of the many things that makes you such a great teacher. Tomorrow will be wonderful! Come down and tell me how it goes when you get home, if you have time.

  7. everybody on your blog is so nice! those midwesterners

    yes be yourself, yes of course they’re people deserving respect, but they’re young high schoolers and they need and even want order and discipline even if they don’t realize it, i learned from experience that it’s not enough to be their friend and expect that they’ll listen and obey, they need rules and they need to know that there are consequences for their actions

    the other thing i tried to do was use the love constrains to obedience approach, asking them who would they rather follow the teacher who is a strict jerk or the one who loves them through their difficulties, explaining that there’s still consequences but that was for there good, i didn’t have as much success with this, maybe because i’m too much of a jerk or more likely because they had know idea what i was talking about, kids not understanding the gospel was part of it

    there’s also the live inside the fence approach to discipline and life is good go outside the fence/rules and life is hard for everybody

    anyway, you’ll figure it out, good luck, we’re all counting on you, better not screw it up!

  8. drop an f-bomb during your introductory lesson. that’s sure to gert their attention. :-)

  9. Um, Travis, we actually need for Craig to stay employed, so maybe not such good advice. But if you drop one around us you will certainly get our attention. Before we laugh you out of the room.

  10. A few thoughts from both sides of the desk, although my teaching experience is quite limited:

    A dry sense of humor is fine, unless it’s a morbid sense of humor as well. Kids can’t always tell when you’re joking. (This problem caused my Latin For Grad Students class to get off to a VERY bad start with a new prof. Things did get better, but only after we mutinied.) Ditto the advice about starting hard and easing up–it is possible to come down *too* hard at the beginning, but it is kind of nice to see the relief on your students’ faces when you tell them two weeks in that the hardest part is over.

    Be crystal clear when setting forth expectations, especially when it comes to giving and grading assignments. Some students still might not get it, but at least they can’t say your instructions were too vague.

    Everyone hates grading. Find a way to do it that makes it easier, whether you set aside a Saturday to get it all done at once or do little bits at a time.

    Do something silly once in a while, whether it’s part of the lesson or not. Your kids will love you for it.

    Multimedia is useful in small doses, but beware of Death By PowerPoint.

    Don’t be afraid of awkward pauses in discussions, but don’t count on them to shame your students into doing their homework.

    Be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. Some students will try to use hard-luck stories to push the envelope; others have genuine needs. The trick is discerning which is which, when to lay down the law and when to show compassion.

    Even if you find that teaching HS is not your calling, God put you in this position and gave you these students for a reason. Knowing that is a real blessing.

    Finally, remember that teaching is not an exact science. What works for one class may fall flat in another; great ideas can completely fail when put into practice. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t be afraid to apologize to your students when you do make mistakes.

  11. One of my mentors out here told me that stating the objective at the beginning of the class (“Today we’re going to review vocabulary, discuss this passage, and try to figure out the main character” or something like that) and reviewing what you’ve accomplished at the end of the class increases the student’s memory/recall up to 25%.

    Also, I may just be a smarmy midwesterner, but I’d say smile. Everyone responds better to those who seem predisposed to like them.

    Everyone else’s advice has been valuable for me, too–thanks for posting the list!

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