The importance of capable, caring teachers in the lives of students – at any level – is immense. According to a recent report, close to 89% individuals stated that their teachers have had ‘positive, significant’ influences on their lives. A good teacher can, in fact, alter the course of life of his/her pupils – identifying and nurturing their unique talents, providing them with the right type of academic and co-curricular assistance, and helping them achieve their potentials. Teaching is much more than simply delivering lectures in classrooms – it is all about mentoring young kids, be present as a guide, someone they can look up to and get inspired by.
While teachers have a huge role to play in shaping the society anywhere, excelling in this profession is not the easiest task in the world. There are some common characteristics that all great teachers (in schools AND colleges) share. Are YOU one of them? Well, you are, if you…
…are really interested in the job
There are two groups of teachers – people who wish to enter this profession from the outset, and people who regard teaching as a fallback option – something that can be done if other career options do not work out. Unless you are a part of the first group and are really invested in teaching, it is next to impossible to become a great teacher. Unlike what many feel, teaching is far from being an ‘easy job’ – both in the classroom and out of it. If you feel distracted or bored because your mind is really not in it, you won’t be able to cope up with things.
…can manage classrooms really well
Yes, teachers need to be highly knowledgeable (veritable knowledge fountains, so to speak) – but in the absence of smart class management strategies, their academic excellence would be of little use. Even before you set foot in a class, you need to realise that the students will have varying personalities, varying preferences and different interests – and as a teacher, the onus is on you to capture their collective attention, and keep them engaged. Another point you need to keep in mind is that, you might have to alter your class management strategies from time to time. Rigidity is the recipe for failure.
…are confident and prepared
If you go into a classroom undercooked and nervous, the students are going to give you a real hard time. Kids can easily realise if a teacher is short on confidence, and/or is not well-versed with the topic(s) (s)he is supposed to teach. As a teacher, you need to do your homework well – preparing the lessons, and ideally practising how you will be addressing the students the next day in class in front of a mirror. Have rough plans of the way you would react in case certain situations crop up. Nothing should catch you off-guard in class…neither a bunch of naughty kid, nor a relevant question you did not see coming.
Note: Speaking of questions, it is impossible for any teacher to know the answers of everything. If you do not know the answer to any particular question, admit it, and let the student know that you’ll get back to him/her as soon as possible with the required information. Never try to sidetrack student queries – that creates a wrong impression.
…are familiar with education technology
The education industry is evolving…and evolving fast. Edtech is growing in importance, and you need to be open to using tech-based learning tools and mediums – to increase the effectiveness of your classroom teaching. Right from digital screens and audiovisual lessons, to computers, educational apps & games and hands-on learning sessions – there is a vast range of edtech solutions that can take your performance as a teacher to the next level. What’s more, if you are proficient with the use of education technology and implement tech-based learning modules (say, a period when kids will do revisions by playing iPad games) – that will capture the interest of young ones too, and give them an early feel of smart gadgets.
…are always organised
Imagine this: the bell for your class has rung 5 minutes ago, but you still can’t find the textbook and the register to take with you. Not a particularly pleasant scenario, right? Keep in mind that the way you carry yourself sets down a marker in the minds of your students – and if you are a disorganised person, the impressionistic kids might very well be the same. Try to be never late in class, keep yourself updated at all times, follow the curriculum carefully, and finish your topics well on time. Students love and appreciate predictability, and they are likely to be bothered by uncertainties. If you have announced a class test or any special activity, avoid changing the dates repeatedly. To be a good teacher, you need to first look and behave like one!
…are never boring
Long lessons, lengthy homeworks, the drone-like voice of a teacher – a combination of these can result in school kids getting bored and distracted easily. Even if the subject matter is not particularly interesting (think of the series of dates you need to remember in History, or the sets of formulas in Chemistry, and you will get the picture), think of how you can it more immersive, more interesting, more appealing to the kids – and consider using things like 3D projections and augmented reality (AR)-based displays. Keep the lessons short and crisp, and get the students involved – by organising impromptu quiz sessions, discussions, spelling challenges (for language courses) and other activities. Do not give lectures for more than 10-12 minutes at a stretch. Kids have short attention spans, and you need to plan accordingly.
…do not single out anyone
Every teacher has favourite students – who are intelligent, sincere in class, well-mannered, and eager to follow instructions. That, however, does not mean that you can openly declare such a student as your ‘favourite’ in your class. Doing so can undermine the confidence of the other students, and create a feeling of jealousy. On the other hand, you should never single out a particular pupil – who has done a misdeed – for serious punishment, with the sole objective of setting an example to the others. A teacher aspiring for greatness needs to consider the entire class as a level-playing field – with no one deserving special praises or special punishments. Consider your class to be a team…a team of which you are the leader.
Note: Avoid heaping undue praises on anyone simply for doing something (s)he is supposed to do (e.g., completing homework on time).
…do not come across as a robot
Students come to school to learn from human teachers, not lifeless, mechanical robots. While teaching, always address the audience, instead of talking to the board (or the desks or the chairs or the windows, for that matter!). By the first 10-12 days at max., you should know the names of the individual students, and address them accordingly. Mention your name and contact number (if required) on the very first day. Have a touch of humour in the way you teach, give the little ones small ‘brain breaks’, and never be shy of thinking out-of-the-box (say, telling the students to rap while learning multiplication tables). Take part in extracurricular activities – school events, functions, etc. – to give the kids a chance to view you outside the class. Share a joke or two, smile at times, and stay energetic – that’s the sort of teacher students love.
Note: There is a common misconception that ‘staying in control’ in class is all about staying grumpy and serious at all times. Remember, a teacher should be likeable…not someone kids are always afraid.
…set out expectations and disciplinary standards from the first
This is an extension of the previous point. Even though you wish to be a nice and likeable person, you DO NOT ENTER A CLASS TO BE FRIENDS WITH THE STUDENTS. Maintain a certain dignified distance, stay away from sharing anything inappropriate – and make sure that a lot of time is not being wasted in frivolous activities. Let the kids know of your expectations from them, and project yourself as a strict disciplinarian. In a bid to come across as a ‘nice’ person, do not let anyone get away lightly for repeated mistakes or naughty acts. Students should always be aware of the consequences of violating the rules in your class. It’s about maintaining the right balance in the way in which you carry yourself in class.
…monitor student performance and progress
Being a teacher can, at times, seem to be a thankless job. If a student scores record marks, all the credit goes to him/her – while if a kid fails a subject, the entire responsibility (the blame-game) comes on the teacher. Do not be burdened by such thoughts, and track the progress of each of your students. You need to consider the fact that not all students have the same capabilities and mental sharpness – and so, progress levels would vary, and your guidance will have to be more customised. If you are in favour of using learning games and activities, make sure you get detailed performance reports from them. The key to being an effective teacher is the ability to identify the areas of strength and weakness of each child, and guiding them accordingly.
…give more importance to the learning process
When you conduct a test or ask a question to a student, luck plays a part in determining how the kid would respond. There might be instances of a child arriving at a correct answer purely by luck – while another student might have understood the concept of the problem, done everything right, and only faltered at the last step (a careless mistake, maybe). Ask your students how they had approached the problem, and how they had proceeded to solve it. That will give you a fair idea of whether they are actually being able to grasp the lessons you are trying to teach. Giving correct answers is obviously important, but greater emphasis has to be given on making children LEARN the right processes first.
Note: You might even come across an entirely new, easier method to solve a particular problem – one that you had not considered earlier. Learning from a student can be fun too!
…include parents as a part of the education process
Which are the two places that a child spends the maximum time at everyday? That’s right – school and home…and you need to ensure that the process of learning continues seamlessly at both places. Just like you (and the other teachers) are the guides at schools, parents have to take up that responsibility at home. Communicate with guardians regularly, and let them know about the progress and performance of their wards (inform them of trouble areas, if any). Determine when it would be better to call parents instead of sending an email – and when a face-to-face conversation might be necessary. Do not contact the parents only when you have a complaint to make – get in touch when their kid does something great too.
Irrespective of whatever might be the provocations, never ever raise your voice in class (yelling is a sureshot sign of losing control). Avoid harshly rebuking any kid in front of others. Instead, call the errant child to your cabin, and have a frank discussion. Don’t be shy to seek help from others – colleagues, technical guys, or even your students. Be responsible of how you conduct yourself both in and out of class, have separate plans for the best and the not-that-bright students (instead of just ‘teaching to the average’), and help the kids whenever you can. Good teachers receive a lot of love, adulation and respect, and they deliver a big service to their students. Follow these broad guidelines, and you can become one too!