Training for Life, Part 2
To be a professional, one must realize that he has to continue to learn and develop his skills. A doctor cannot afford to stop learning about the vast changes in the medical field simply because a degree hangs on his wall, nor should an athlete stop training because he has a signed contract with guaranteed money—though many athletes do. Why should a teacher’s position be any different? In part one of this article, you answered a simple questionnaire to determine how well you prepare for your classes and train your students. Based on your score, you should have a good idea of where you need to improve.
First, let’s take a look at how we can better prepare for our classes in ways that will have the greatest positive impact on our students. Proper preparation should go beyond the textbook and curriculum. Please remember that your curriculum is simply a guide to assist you in laying out your semester; the curriculum alone cannot create a connection with your students. As I did once upon a time, many new teachers have the misguided concept that they are simply pawns on the educational chessboard, and the curriculum directs a teacher’s every move. That is not teaching. If teaching simply involved following a curriculum, there would be no reason to earn a degree or even to have teachers for that matter. We could simply hire babysitters to ensure that the students do their work. By the time students reach a certain age, they can read a curriculum guide just as well as the teachers. It’s no wonder our students are bored out of their minds in class. Unless teachers prepare to impact students, nothing connects the students to the subject.
Begin preparing for your classes by looking for ways that the lesson can be personalized for the students. Use examples from recent field trips or class exercises to reinforce a concept, use a personal illustration to bring some passion to the lesson, or find an activity that will stay on topic and add energy to the class. This is not difficult to do, but it does take time and thought. When I taught high school economics years ago, I had the students follow the stock market by bringing a newspaper to class each day. After a week or so, I gave each of the students 5,000 fictitious dollars to purchase shares, and a fee was charged for each transaction. The student that had the greatest increase over the course of the next month or so won the competition and a monetary prize. It was amazing to see how much the students enjoyed each class and took an interest in what they were learning. I know that I am not the only teacher to ever use this type of class project, but the fact remains that the project helped the students learn and connect with that class. Ideas don’t have to be original per se;anything outside the box will enhance your class and improve your students’ results. Anyone can walk into a classroom and read from a curriculum, but a true teacher finds ways to bring the subject to life. It all begins with preparation.
Preparation is also required to be certain that knowledge is being transferred and understood. The typical math teacher begins class, grades the homework, “teaches” the next lesson, asks for questions, assigns homework, and goes back into seclusion at his cluttered desk. Does this sound familiar? Such a scenario occurs because that is what the curriculum suggests, but how does the teacher really know that his students understand fractions if he does this? A simple problem or two on the board is not going to solidify fractions. In some cases, there are very bright students that may understand the concept on their own. So when tests results come back, the teacher refuses to accept responsibility for the 95% of the students that did poorly. He believes that if Jaclynn gets it, the rest of the class should get it too. But properly assessing students requires preparation. Good questioning, additional worksheets, and simple review are a few ways to assess knowledge; but these methods require preparation. When preparing your lesson, determine how you will know by the end of class whether or not each student truly understands the concept that was presented.
Now let’s briefly touch on the topic of training. Training should always be occurring—principal training teachers, teachers training teachers, teachers training students, etc. I will not labor the fact that teachers must be professionally growing daily, because either you believe it or you don’t.
But no one can deny that children do require training. However, because misbehavior is relatively low during the first few weeks of the school year, teachers think that their students have been properly trained. They do not realize that the facade of angelic behavior will eventually fall off. Children naturally test adults to see what they can and cannot get away with. “If I turn in my paper just one day late, will Mr. Goodfella really catch it?” “If I just copy this article, will he really know that I plagiarized?” I could give dozens of examples, but the bottom line is that students want to do the least amount of work they can do and still get by. When teachers allow this, how are we training them for life?
Students will also test their teachers in areas of discipline. It is vital that teachers remain consistent in correction. By and large, the character level of the next generation is lower than that of the previous generation. How does this occur? Poor training. When teachers are permissive in their correction, we are training our students that obedience is not necessary until a threat is actually executed. If a student is running in the halls, do you: a) ignore him, b) yell at him and make an idle threat, or c) pull him aside, correct respectfully, and discipline properly? Truthfully, a large percentage of teachers would answer “a” or “b.” Our faults as teachers often show up in the character of our students.
Think for a moment about how well you train your students. Just as a coach’s lack of training always shows up in the athlete’s game, the parents’ and teachers’ lack of training always shows up in the lives of our children and students. Of course we as teachers should be concerned about our students’ academic achievements; but even more than academics, we must be concerned about their lives.
What can we do to improve as educators? Being better prepared for our students and giving attention to training will make us better teachers—and more importantly, it will benefit the lives of the students that God has entrusted into our care.