Teaching takes some time getting used to. I can vouch for many times where I didn’t know what to do, or just felt stuck overall. In January I will have been teaching for 10 years and in those 10 years I have had to deal with many different situations and many different students. I spend a brief spell teaching first adults and then teenagers, only to make up my mind and decided that adolescents and people in their early 20s are my preferred audience. Below I am sharing a few life lessons which I wish I had known from the get-go.
1.) Be patient & listen
As a teacher you have to listen a lot. Not just to students, but also to colleagues, supervisors and to anything else that is going on in the field. Based on what you hear, you can adjust your lessons and create the most meaningful learning process for your students. It is through constant exploration of new possibilities that you will become the best teacher you could possibly be.
2.) Your point of view is not the only point of view: be open to new insights
If you teach a class of 30 students, chances are that apart from yourself every one of your students will think differently about almost anything you do or say. People come from different backgrounds and just because everyone is in that room with you, does not mean that they all experience your class in the same way. Which brings me to tip 1: be patient and listen and maybe you can learn something new in the process.
3.) You are a teacher, not a dictator: you are not always right
I find many teachers who have difficulty with this, myself included from time to time. Yes, you are right, to a certain extent. But there are always going to be unforeseeable circumstances. Value the different input you receive and see what you can do with it. Creating an open atmosphere in your lessons where students feel they can speak up make for a healthy learning environment. ‘We are in this together’ is my motto.
4.) Jokes are good!
A little bit of well-timed humor brightens up any lesson. But be careful to not hurt anyone’s feeling. I make jokes at my own expense, but limit jokes about students to a minimum unless I know them very well and know exactly what they do or do not appreciate. Be careful with humor if you’re a language teacher: jokes may not be understood or you may get lost in translation.
5.) Set clear goals for your students
Students want to know what they are up against. So stating, very clearly, what the goal of the lessons are or what the goal of the course is, will help you in getting them to do what has to be done. If students know what is required of them, they will be able to gauge what needs to be done to get there. You can then help them along the way to achieve that goal.
6.) You are not important: it’s about the students’ learning process
Your classes are not about you and how funny/ lovely/ etc you are. It’s about your students and their learning process. So make your classes about them. Talk to them and find out what they need. Based on the information you gather, you can then adjust your teaching to what your students’ need are.
7.) How to be angry without being angry
For particularly tough groups, knowing how to act angry when you’re actually not is a handy tool to master. The point with out of control groups is that if you let your emotions show too much, they will know exactly when they have crossed the line and then you will no longer be able to take rational decisions. If you take measures before you have had enough, you will be able to make more sensible decisions. It helps if you think up a plan of how to deal with sticky situations before you are in one.
8.) Try to establish a personal accord with every student
I try to learn the names of students as quickly as I can. This makes for easier communication and they are more likely to show you who they are. The more you know about your students (to a certain extent) the more you might be able to help them. I draw the line at Facebook and other social media. If they find my blog, they will, but I do not allow students on some of my other social media pages until I am no longer working at that job or if they have graduated.
9.) Know your stuff, but don’t expect yourself to be a walking talking dictionary
As a teacher, the idea that you’re an omniscient body of knowledge that has the answer to anything regarding your subject at any time, is not something you have to strive for anymore. Yes, you have to be an expert in your field, but you also have to be able to level with students so they can still understand what you’re saying and learn something. So it’s okay if a question is asked that you do not know the answer to. Just tell them you’ll look it up and come back to it next class.
10.) Teaching takes time
Just because you graduate with a teaching degree and are in front of a class does not make you a teacher per se. Becoming a teacher took me at least 5 years of experience to feel comfortable in front of a group of students and know what you have to do. Over time, you will roughly know what types of questions you can expect and you can anticipate what students know or don’t know and thus what their needs are, a lot better. So don’t expect yourself to be perfect and dare to steer away of your precious lesson plans if that is what is needed.