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Three teaching abilities


Disciplines > Teaching > Articles > Three teaching abilities

Classroom management | Teaching skills | Subject knowledge | See also


To be an effective teacher, you need (at least) three abilities:

  • Classroom management: the ability to manage discipline.
  • Teaching skills: the ability to impart knowledge.
  • Subject knowledge: the knowledge to impart.

You need all three of these abilities. Without subject knowledge, you have nothing to teach. Without teaching skills, you will not be able to get it through to the people in your classroom. And without discipline, your class will not give you the attention you need to be able to use your teaching skills.

Classroom management

Classroom management is largely about discipline. It is about maintaining order and control, which is based on students acting in ways that support their own learning as well as that of others.

Many young students act in disruptive ways, mostly due to the difficult psychology of maturation and learning to live in society. This knowledge seems little help to the teacher struggling to be heard but getting inside their heads is a powerful process. Just like negotiation, if you can get inside their heads you are most of the way there. If you can go from 'me vs. them' to 'me with them' (not, however, an undifferentiated 'us') then you can make a huge difference.

Classroom management is very difficult for some teachers in some situations. It can, however, be learned. Indeed it must be, if the teacher is to retain sanity and be allowed to teach.

Teaching skills

Once classroom discipline is established, the next big trick is to transfer what is in your head into theirs. For this there are three key attributes of the teaching skill that you need.

At the minimum teaching is of basic functional skills, showing them how to do things by rote, repeating actions and words until, given a suitable stimulus, they are able to reproduce an effective response.

Beyond learning to do is learning to think. If you can teach them to fish they will never need to be fed. If they know how to go about understanding and solving problems, then teaching has been of a higher order.

Beyond even learning to think is developing a passion for the subject that drives the student to actively learn for themselves. The best teachers thus infect their students with a love of the subject that will sustain their interest for many years to come.

Subject knowledge

Subject knowledge is a basic for teaching. If you do not know your subject then it is impossible to teach it. Worse, you may impart false knowledge and send out many people into the world with information they believe is true but which may serve them badly in years to come.

In teaching children, it may seem that the teacher only needs to know the child's level of knowledge. Yet one reason a deep subject knowledge is needed is that students ask questions, often very penetrating ones, that require a deep understanding that can reach even to philosophical ideas.

When teaching fractions to a lower-ability class once, I took a circle of card and cut it in half, showing that the two halves were the same as the whole 'pie'. Yet a little girl did not understand and challenged me 'Sir, they are not the same'. I was flummoxed: indeed in cutting the pie I had fundamentally changed it. I changed my presentation from being 'the same' to 'fitting together', which made the lesson work better.

See also

Classroom management

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