Website owner: James Miller
What basic principles could I give for teaching? To answer that I look back to the teaching style of one of my best teachers. I will call her Mrs. Johnson. What stood out about Mrs. Johnson? She was professional. She was all business. She was there to do a job and she was doing it and doing it well. She was teaching grades 1-8 plus kindergarten in a small one- room country school. The school had around 25 students in all with generally no more than three or four students in a grade. There was a lot to be done in a day and she was efficient and did it all and never got behind. She budgeted her time well. She was extremely well organized. In each of the eight grades there would be five or six classes to be conducted every day. That is forty or fifty classes a day. She got them all in. Each day went like clockwork. Every day was the same --- with some variations. There was a strict daily routine. The day started every morning with a few minutes devoted to some group game, such as musical chairs. Then the classes started. She would call each class to the front of the room. For example, she would call, "Fifth grade arithmetic". The fifth grade students would walk to the front of the room and sit down in a semi-circle of chairs. She would request the work she had assigned the previous day and then they would go over it and she would quiz them with questions. Then she would assign them work for the next day. Each class would last no more than five or ten minutes. When the students weren't up at the front of the room in one of their classes they were at their desks working on assigned work, or if they had finished all their assignments, reading some book from the library. There was a 10 or 15 minute recess in mid-morning, a noon break, and a mid- afternoon recess. The first thing after noon break she would read to us from some book for fifteen or twenty minutes. It was one of the high spots of the day, something we all looked forward to, as we followed the story. She treated every student decently and with respect and expected respect in return. And she got it. The students respected her. There was never any unruliness or foolishness under her. She had order and discipline at all times. She never touched any student physically in disciplining. One type of punishment that I remember was to make a child stay after school and write some long sentence a few hundred times on the blackboard. It was perhaps a sentence promising never to do such and such a thing again. She stayed with him until he finished and wouldn't let him leave until he finished. All the work that she assigned, she also corrected and graded. She assigned work every day so correcting and grading it all must have taken her a lot of time and been a lot of work. And she would give tests. The grade for the course was based on the grades from the daily assignments as well as the grades from the tests she gave. I am not sure what weight was given to the assigned work and what was given to the tests in determining the final grade but it was perhaps half and half. Before Mrs. Johnson came I had been doing badly in school. She came at the start of my third year. Under her my grades went almost immediately from near failing to A's and B's. Why the big change? I don't know. I am not sure. I know that I did try hard before she came along and just couldn't seem to do it. I was really frustrated with myself, demoralized and confused. I remember my frustrated efforts at trying to learn to read. It was all failure and frustration. Then things changed when she came along. I do know this: I liked her. I respected her and I liked her. And because I liked her I worked. I worked because I wanted to please her, because I wanted her approval. Teaching is not just some action on the part of the teacher. The teacher only plays a part in the teaching process. The student plays the other part. You can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink and you can take a child to school but you can't make him learn. Teaching is not some profession where you just "operate" on people and put knowledge and understanding into their heads. Even the very best teacher can't teach someone who isn't interested in learning. Thus we have a very important fact that cannot be overemphasized when it comes to teaching: the critical importance of the right attitude on the part of the student. He must be willing to work hard and be perseverant. He must want to learn. He must be trying. He must be serious about doing what he is asked to do. He must be pulling in the harness. He must be motivated. Good character and good habits are a very important part of being a good student. Seriousness and honest effort are critical. Attitude is everything. A teacher can only do so much. The main part in the process of learning is done by the student. It is a bit like dealing with a mule. If you are going to get him to work for you you must get him to want to. It is all completely dependent on his attitude. If he has decided he doesn't want to do (or can't do) what you wish him to do, you can forget it. You can't force him to do it. You simply can't help a student if he is not trying. And it helps a great deal if a student respects and likes his teacher. I suspect that this is especially true in the case of young children. Older students may work hard even if they don't like the teacher but young children may be more influenced by childish whim. At the bottom, learning and success in school is more about attitude than anything else. It is also about the teacher expecting a lot from you. A student should be challenged. He should be given plenty to do and a lot should be expected from him. School should be hard work. Standards should be high. If little is expected from him he won't respect the teacher and will become lazy and do nothing. Yet he should not be given more than he can do. The demands on him must be reasonable. If they become unreasonable he is likely to become angry, discouraged and demoralized. Unreasonable demands could cause his attitude to turn bad. You should expect an ox to pull and work hard but still you should treat him decently and well and justly and not expect more from him than he can give. Much depends upon the good judgment of the teacher. Good teaching is more of an art than an science. A teacher needs to be able to motivate and inspire and get the best effort out of a student. The usual practice in school is that the students go through a textbook slowly, a couple of pages every day. Everyone in the class goes at the same rate and they all finish the textbook at the end of the year. I think it would be much better to encourage students to read ahead, to proceed as fast as they can. They could take tests as they went to verify that they knew the material. I think I could have proceeded much faster had I been encouraged to do it and gotten into the habit. The teacher could act more as a guide, advising you what to study, recommending textbooks, giving direction, giving personal help where needed. Everyone would proceed on his own track, with the guidance and help of the teacher. This wouldn't be practical until a student was able to read well, but after that he could do it. A method that I have found very effective in learning a difficult subject is the TutorText method. I think the method could also be implemented on a computer. I think a computer could be used for teaching in a lot of ways. It could be used in giving tests and in correcting them. Drills, such as vocabulary and spelling drills, could be given and corrected by computer. So what principles can we state for good teaching? 1. The teacher must have the respect of his students. If he loses their respect, he has lost the game. He is destined to failure. To get their respect he must deserve it. He must treat them decently and with respect. He must be doing his job. He must be teaching effectively. And he must conduct himself professionally, maintaining his authority and position, not becoming too familiar with his students. 2. There must be order and discipline in the classroom at all times. A first rule for effective teaching: obedience. A student must first learn obedience before he can be taught. 3. Expect a lot from the students; have high standards and expect them to meet the standards. 4. Never ask from the students the unreasonable, ask what they are unable to give. 5. The main emphasis in the first four or five years of school should be on the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic. Once a student has a really strong mastery of these the world opens up to him. Of all things to be learned these skills are by far the most important. This is especially true with reading. Emphasize reading. Get the student reading. The student who likes to read, who reads a lot, has potential. Reading is the key to the door of the world. 6. Final grades should be based on both graded homework and tests. There should be several tests, they should be well thought out and fair, and there should be no time limits on completing them (the student should be given all the time he needs to complete them). Thus the final grade is based on a lot of data, making for a fair and honest grade. I believe that the internet could be used very effectively to teach essentially any subject. A teacher operating from his own home could teach students remotely, in their own home, employing the methods and techniques of the country school teacher as indicated above, using the internet. It would be somewhat akin to homeschooling but the teaching would be done by a teacher. I believe such a system could be far more efficient and give a far better education than the current public school system. In such a system there would be a one- on-one relationship between teacher and student. There would be no problems of classroom disruption by students who were not interested in learning and no problems of bad social influences of other children. Jan 2003 More from SolitaryRoad.com:
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