How to be a Great Teacher

Have you ever thought about how to be a great teacher as you walked in to work in the morning?  Are there some common factors among the best teachers.  Let’s take a look at what works AND what doesn’t.  As always, PLEASE leave your comments and ideas at the bottom of the post.  Your experience is an extremely valuable resource for every teacher out there!  Now, on to some thoughts on how to be a teacher…

How to be a Great Teacher

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  • Get to Know Your Students.  Many new teachers start the school year in a panic.  They are worried about getting all of the necessary content covered.  They are looking ahead and worrying about end of year testing before they ever get started.   They don’t realize that one of the most important things they can do as a teacher is get to know their students.  Take a day to get to know each other.  Make learning names a high priority.  It is a basic sign of respect and it goes a long way toward starting a positive relationship with your students.  Make a game of it during the first class and you’ll probably surprise yourself with how quickly you get to know those young people you’re going to be working with for the next 180 days or so.
  • Don’t Take the Bait.  First of all, grow yourself some seriously thick skin.  Some kids will say things just to get under your skin.  Others are coming from homes where the parents reallyhow to be a great teacher don’t see much value in education.  The real classroom in front of you is probably nothing like the theoretical ones presented in the textbooks you studied in your college classes about teaching…SURPRISE!  🙂  I made a big mistake when I first taught middle school.  I let the annoying students get under my skin.  They wanted a reaction and they got one.  As a result, I spent a lot of time feeling like I was growing my very own ulcer garden in my stomach and I spent a couple of years feeling miserable about going to work.  I’m sure that this also affected my teaching.  I still look back now and feel bad for the kids who did behave in an acceptable way.  They had to put up with a lot of tension in the room that might have been avoided.  Experience taught me to resist the urge to  react in a negative way as much as possible.  Be strong and keep a smile on your face as you correct behaviors.  Giving a major reaction to inappropriate behavior only serves to bring on more of the same.  Just keep smiling.
  • Know Your Subject Matter.  Of course you went to school to be a teacher.  That doesn’t mean that you are automatically prepared to know every little thing about every possible subject though.  Sometimes administrators pull the old switcheroo and even put you in a new position at the last minute.  The best advice I can think of is to make sure that you know whatever it is you are teaching about extremely well.  You’ll get better at teaching your subject matter every time you do a lesson, but that takes time and experience.  As a good starting point, put in the time to make sure you are as well prepared as possible.  I like to run through each of the day’s lessons in my mind before a student ever walks through the door.  Anticipate possible questions that the students might come up with during the lesson.  You might still get caught with an “I don’t know” moment from time to time, but doing the proper prep work can go a long way toward smooth sailing in your classroom.
  • Get to Know Your Students.  Show a real interest in those learners in front of you.  Try taking a few minutes to get to know them from time to time.  Talk to them about something other than your subject matter when you get a chance.  Having a good relationship with your students can go a long way toward getting them to accept what you actually want to teach them.  It will also make your days infinitely more enjoyable.  This doesn’t mean that you have to be their best friend.  Just show an interest.  For some, you may be the only one who does this for them all day.  Really.  Also, don’t be afraid to let your students know a little bit about your own likes, dislikes, and life experiences (within reason).  It will help them to see you as more than just that talking head at the front of the classroom.
  • Make Your Lessons Interesting.  Granted, every day isn’t going to be like a trip to the circus, but try to change things up from time to time.  Include in-class activities.  Let them work with partners or in groups from time to time (YOU choose the partners or groups).  Relate the lessons to real life situations your students can identify with easily.  If you have an outdoor classroom area at your school, put it to use once in a while just for a change of scenery.  Face it, sitting still and listening in one class after another, all day long, is pretty boring.  Sometimes after introducing a new topic, have students write down questions they have about the subject.  As you teach, make a bit of a show selecting and answering some of the questions.  Just do something to avoid the dreadful experience of listening to a droning lecture day after day!

There is a lot more to be said about how to be a great teacher.  The bullet points above are just a tiny scratch on the surface.  I’ll keep adding to this list, but I’d LOVE to hear about what YOU think makes for a great teacher!  Please add your comments below and I’ll be sure to get them live ASAP for the world to see.

Some more thoughts on becoming a teacher…

When you sign up to begin a course of study to become a teacher, you expect (reasonably) that you will be taught and given all of the skills necessary to become a successful teacher.  I think that this is an area that is not given enough attention in the world of academia.  College professors come out to observe student teachers and chastise them for things that honestly don’t have much bearing on real world classroom experiences.  I remember a professor who gave me a five minute lecture, back in the day, because I slipped up and said “gonna” instead of “going to” during a student teaching lesson.  He watched me teach for an hour and that’s what he had for me.  Really?

So, what kinds of skills do you need if you want to be a successful and happy teacher nowadays?  Personally, I think that an ability to roll with changes comes in pretty handy.  Things change a lot in the world of education.  New ideas trickle down from above on a regular basis in some districts.  When they reach you as a teacher, you will be expected to make all necessary changes to implement those ideas.  If you let yourself get too used to a routine, you’re just asking for a very frustrating experience.

Do You Like People?

If you are going to be a teacher, you’ve got to enjoy dealing with people.  This is not the job for someone who prefers a solitary existence.  You’ve got to deal with colleagues, administrators, parents, and classrooms full of students.  There’s just no room for being shy.  If you manage to get a teaching position working with an age group you enjoy though, teaching can be a very satisfying career.

Back to the big list of instructional strategies.

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