Some Thoughts: So You’re Going to be a Teacher

4 things I was told about teaching that are wrong.

In this post I want to talk about 4 things that I was told to do/not to do when on teaching practice that I just don’t agree with. There’s a kernel of truth in each one but they’re not absolute rules. To be fair, I don’t think anyone who put these forward thought they were absolute rules either. However, I think that it’s easy to misinterpret them as such, so with this article I want to present some arguments against them. I hope you will forgive me if I exaggerate some of these positions and arguments; I think it makes for a more interesting read.

Ultimately, the way you should teach will be very dependent on the kind of teacher you are and the kind of students you have. I find it funny that the kind of teacher that I’m often told is the best kind is one which I really wouldn’t like to have. I had a lot of great teachers going through school and I thought their “bad” methods were great. Maybe I’m coming from a very specific point of view. Read on and see I suppose!

1. Don’t use the textbook

Me: But sir! Surely the textbook is a great resource that I should be exploiting fully as a student teacher?

Sir: Absolutely not! Stay well away from the textbook!

Me: But the textbook is written by experienced teachers for the express purpose of providing other teachers with a useful and handy source of relevant information and assessment for their class!

Sir: Design your own class and questions; don’t use the textbook.

Me: But they’re written by experienced teachers; won’t they have a better idea of how to present information to a class than I – as a new student teacher – will?

Sir: No. Do it yourself!

Me: But I simply won’t have the time to do that! Why spend hours compiling resources when they’re all already there! It’s madness!

Sir: Students hate textbooks.

Me: What!? Why would they hate textbooks?! All the basic facts are right there in a nice easy to read format.

Sir: Reading from them is boring.

Me: Secondary school is boring – they’d all rather be playing football/shopping in Dundrum! Anyway, you’re not just going to be reading; you’re going to explain as you read and you’ll elaborate on all the important points.

Sir: They’d prefer if you made your own notes.

Me: Shouldn’t notes be used to supplement the book rather than replace it? In fact, they’ll always have their textbooks nearby to read over, so going through the textbook will provide them with a great resource for their own study.

Sir: Keep this up and you will fail teaching practice!

Me: This is ridiculous.

Every teacher I ever had used a textbook, even the good ones. The only classes where we didn’t were religion classes – and they were seen and treated as “doss” classes. There’s nothing wrong with textbooks in themselves, it all depends on how well you use them.

Let’s be realistic here: if you were teaching a single class then yes, designing it yourself would be a great idea. You’re going to be a teacher though (not a lecturer!); you’re going to be teaching lots of classes every single day. You don’t have time to design every single one. Just use the textbook. Add a little to make it interesting. It works.

2. Don’t sit down

I was very shocked when I was told this – it was given as an absolute rule. Which is just silly.

Sitting down/not sitting down is situational. There are times when you should never sit down. But there are also times when not sitting down is going to make you look really bad.

The times when you should probably sit down are when the students have a lot of work to do: they’re practicing an essay style question and they’re going to be working on it for 15 minutes. We’re told to walk around the class looking at the students’ work when you give them an exercise – but if you spend 15 minutes walking around then you’re going to look like an eejit.

Worse, students really don’t like you walking around. Nothing gives a student writing block more severely than a teacher looming over their shoulder and reading what they’re trying to write. It’s worthwhile to walk around from time to time to make sure that they actually are working (they could be lazy, in which case discomfiting them is totally warranted :P), but if they’re already working then it’s probably not a great idea. It’s like being asked for ID when you’re in your 20s – it’s unnecessary and really annoying.

Never sitting down also makes you appear insecure. Students expect their teachers to sit down from time to time. If you don’t, they’re going to pick up on that and they will start asking questions. Your body language dictates the mood of the classroom; if you can’t sit down and relax while doing your work then your students won’t be able to either. Sitting down relays confidence if it’s in the right context.

3. Use lots of groupwork

A little bit of groupwork is fine. However, I definitely think you can overdo it. Are you familiar with the axiom that the whole class only goes as fast as the slowest student in it? The problem with groupwork is that it hugely exacerbates this situation. At least in a regular class the top students can be given extra work or asked tougher questions that will challenge them. In groupwork, however, the top students are literally forced to move at the exact same pace as the weaker students – they’re in groups with them!

I heard one person say groupwork is great because the students mix together and those students that would normally get Ds get Bs instead. But the converse of this is also true: the students that would normally get As are going to get Bs too.

The problem with this is that it’s a sure-fire recipe for alienating your top students. This is something you definitely don’t want to do. Top students hate having to do something with other people when they could do the task faster and better on their own. If you make them do groupwork they will be bored. Do groupwork too much and they will start to hate you as a teacher.

Top students that dislike you are the last thing you want to encounter when you’re teaching. Why? Because they will treat you with sarcasm and contempt, and they will simply stop doing what you tell them to do. They will think that you’re an idiot and that they are smarter than you; they will have zero respect for you. At least with normal students there will always be a chance to regain their respect and to convince them that you’re a good teacher. This is almost impossible with top students; it’s hard to convince anyone of anything if they think you’re a complete moron with nothing worthwhile to say. It’s a teacher’s worst nightmare.

I would also imagine that if the weaker students, who genuinely want to learn what you have to teach them, see the top students treating everything you say with disdain then they will start to lose faith in your abilities as well. In short, don’t use too much easy groupwork. It’s ok – nay, necessary! – to use more “academic” methods as well.

4. Don’t touch the kids

Only joking!

I would definitely recommend following this one 😛

That being said, if you find yourself in an unfortunate situation where one of your students has a seizure in the middle of class, you just have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to prison regardless of what you do; they’ll get you for assault/sexual harassment if you help and criminal negligence if you don’t! Criminal negligence is probably significantly easier to prove in this case, so I recommend just doing the right thing and helping your poor dying student – rules be damned!

Being realistic though, it’s highly unlikely that you will be sued for patting someone on the back. That being said, you’re better safe than sorry; don’t do it when you’re a new teacher. Maybe when you’re an experienced teacher and you’re familiar with your class it will be ok… But I don’t see that you actually gain anything tangible from patting them on the back etc. And you could definitely be risking a lot. You might think that it would be nice to pat a student on the shoulder, but you can actually teach just as well without breaking this rule. Therefore, stick to it as much as possible!

Ok so I guess I only really disagreed with 3 things… I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me 😛 Feel free to leave a comment if you agree/disagree!

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