advice from a master teacher
By john.rose on Aug 16, 2010
Tonight my father and I were talking about education, with the end of the summer and fall classes coming on. He is glad to be retired, but he is still a teacher at heart. I asked him, “What is your best advice to teachers?” Here is the answer he gave, as well as I can reconstruct it.
“Listen” is the first word. Listen to your students with your eyes and ears. Understand how they are approaching the class, and whether they are understanding the lesson. If you are sending a message, but they are not receiving, no communication is happening. Ask questions.
Aim for self-education, and model it. Show them how to learn for themselves. In a typical class, you will teach them a few cardinal facts of subject matter, and show them ways to fill in everything else later. Encourage questions. Be willing to say “I don't know; let's find out”.
Allow a little chaos into the classroom, to make room for conversation and discovery. Tightly scripted lesson plans do not work. On the other hand, know where you are going. Have clear class objectives and lesson plans, and steer the interactive conversations back to the class objectives.
To make students accountable for the required reading, give take-home quizzes to be turned in at the beginning of each week. Make each quiz from a handful of simple write-in questions drawn from the text. Give the quizzes significant weight, as a group. Allow students to use any resources to answer the question, but do it in a way that makes reading the text the easiest way to get it done. Allow students to work together on the quizzes. Study groups are good, as long as they are not too large. If this is done well, nearly all students will put in the work and gain nearly all the points. Then, in your lectures, you can then assume the basic reading work has been accomplished.
For science classes, know that you will be teaching a field that changes each year. The internet is a good source for new information, better than the paper journals of yesteryear. For classic humanities, what is new each year is the teacher's deepening understanding of the subject matter.
When tackling a difficult text, as in a humanities class, use a three-phase process: First observe, then interpret, then apply. (To me, this reflects the phases of the classical Trivium: grammar, logic, rhetoric; or, facts, ideas, actions.) This three-phase process works both for individual study and for discusion.
Of course, every subject is new to each new student. Listen to them and help them discover.