Website owner:  James Miller

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Basic Principles of Teaching

   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 
   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

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