How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Eleri's Rules for Teachers
Eleri was a highly successful and respected teacher who managed the whole teaching triumvirate: she had strong discipline, she got great grades and the kids loved her. Here are her rules for teaching that she lived by for many years.
In a traditional classroom, the students respect the power of the teacher, if not the teacher. Yet the fundamental platform for teaching is a much fuller respect. First of all, respect means accepting the person, while disrespect can be seen when people are treated with contempt or disdain.
Using respect is not just wanting it, but using a three-way respect triangle: respect them, expect respect from them, and require them to respect one another.
The first and last rule is that the teacher should always respect their students, with no exceptions. Even if they are disrespectful, you must still respect them. This can be hard at first, but with practice it becomes easy (and indeed it is eventually hard not to respect them). They are people, just like you. They are also trying to grow up, which is a really tough and scary job.
It is alarming how some teachers seem not to particularly like children. If you do not like them, go find another profession. You'll feel better for doing so.
Respecting them means accepting them, but not necessarily how they behave. Disrespect includes talking when they should be listening, not doing work you set them, acting aggressively and so on.
When they act disrespectfully, name the game, telling them directly that behaving like this is not acceptable. If you use discipline for anything, use it for lack of respect.
Many students, when you respect them, really appreciate this and will be far readier to return respect to you.
Respect one another
Beyond the two-way respect between you and each student, ensure they act respectfully towards one another. Have zero tolerance when they speak unkindly, bully or show racial, gender or other bias towards one another.
When you call out disrespect, you may also find that others in the class will also join in. When this happens, be careful that this does not become a reversal, where the disrespectful student becomes a subject of disrespect.
Children (and adults) notice and copy how you act. If you establish respect as essential, they will more readily take it us as a way of behaving with others.
Traditional teaching was based on the teacher spouting knowledge at the front of the class. The students were vessels and the teacher was the dispenser of water. However, this is not the best way and will not always lead to them respecting you.
Listening to them helps you understand how they are thinking, how they understand and misunderstand, and so allows you to shape the lesson to maximize learning. Listening and understanding also helps you respect them. Everyone likes to be listened to, so listening also helps them respect you. Your listening also encourages them to listen in return.
Yes, there is a time for listening and a time for you to take control. When they talk, it should mostly be about the subject. Depending on the strength of discipline you hold, you can allow small diversions, but never let them lead you down the garden path.
Traditional teaching promotes a fixed lesson plan with activities that happen on schedule. Learning does not happen like this and a good lesson is measured by the number of 'aha's, not by ticking boxes of what 'should' be done.
Instead, have intent rather than a fixed and single path. Have a general direction rather than a sharp vector. Hold the reins, but hold them loosely. Push them forward and watch where they go. Respect and encourage their curiosity. Be curious yourself. Be ready for the lesson to go in unexpected directions, in search of new understanding. Seek out 'aha's wherever they may be.
Show them how to remain open to possibility. Teach them that there can be more than one answer and that the obvious way is not always the best way. Do not discount or criticize ideas without exploring how they appeared in the first place. Use words like 'how', 'where', 'interesting' and 'surprising'.
This is not always easy. You need to understand your subject well. You need to be able to teach differently at a moment's notice as you are always ready for variation from where you may have hoped you might go.
Teaching is not just about presenting knowledge and getting them to reproduce what you tell them. Far better is to teach them to think, so they can respond from understanding rather than just a good memory.
To get them to think, ask good questions. Then listen and explore, prodding them to think even deeper. Ask 'Why do you think that?' and 'What else could be true?' Show you like that they are thinking and respect their thought processes. Offer them new ways to think about things through exploration and open possibility.
To think in increasingly complex ways is human and raises us above the animals. When you teach them to think, you give them a platform on which to build a successful life.
Teaching is not about just getting them to accept the reasoning of other people. Far better is to help them to work things out for themselves. Even if their ideas are unconventional, if the reasoning is good, then be ready to accept something different.
When they tell you what they are thinking, get them to explain why they think their suggestions are right. Get them to understand cause and effect by asking 'why' and 'how'.
Not only should they reason with their arguments with you, but also with each other. Get them to debate topics, learning how to persuade with reason as well as passion. This is a skill, like many of the others here, that are very useful in life and not just for passing exams.
Debate is a good way to test reason as it encourages challenge of the reasoning of others. It encourages students to think carefully about what they think and why they think this. They learn to defend arguments rather than just rolling over and accepting criticism. They also learn to listen to the arguments of others and to change their views if other reasoning is better than their own.
As a teacher, you are the conductor and facilitator, ensuring fair play and that everyone has a turn to speak. Encourage those who speak less while not quashing those who get particularly enthusiastic. Help individuals to think, reason and listen to others.
Encourage constructive discussion as well as win-lose debate. Get them to bounce ideas off one another and build on what has already been proposed.
And throughout it all, enjoy yourself as a teacher as you help young people become adult, transitioning from dependence to independence. What you do and whatever your subject, you are building citizens of tomorrow. Though the subject may vary, the pleasure you can gain from turning on light bulbs of understanding is like no other job.
Also help them to enjoy it. Measure your success in 'aha's and 'oho's. Empathize with their struggles and get vicarious and empathetic thrills in watching them learn and enjoy the process of learning. If you can do this, teaching that learning is fun, then you will have set them up for life.