“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together”.
Van Gogh’s words couldn’t ring truer in the context of the classroom.
Sometimes, we feel things are not going that well in the classroom. Some moments in class might seem chaotic, unorganized, awkward, or boring. Whether you are a new teacher wanting to improve your presence or a seasoned educator who needs to return to the basics, the good news is that little tweaks can go a long way! Here are six tricks to flip common teacher habits.
1. Contiually asking “Do you have any questions?”
Have you ever wondered why this question is met by dead silence, only to see that Google is helping students get answers? Or noticed that students never ask questions during class, but come to you afterward with dozens? The thing is, many students feel their questions are too basic, obvious, or unnecessary.
The trick? Instead, ask simple questions in open class to test if students understood what you have just explained. These can be “yes” or “no” questions that classmates can answer collectively. Experiment with open-ended questions as well, such as “What questions do you have? What parts weren’t so clear to you? If I gave you a test right now, would you be comfortable taking it?”
2. Not varying who you call upon
We all have that one student who consistently gets it right. Automatically turning to them might work in desperate situations, but it shouldn’t become a habit. Not only does this create a boring dynamic, but it also sends students the message that they are constantly being lectured by the same peer, which can eventually turn toxic.
The trick? To avoid having to resort to the same student, get pairs to work together and come up with answers before asking specific students for participation. They are more likely to be ready when you call their name, letting you diversify more without fear that you’ll embarrass them or make them feel bad.
3. Forgetting your board skills
This one is particularly common for new teachers. In the midst of paperwork and lesson planning, we often forget the board and how we can best use it to demonstrate our topic. An unorganized, confusing, chaotic board sends the message that you yourself are unprepared and confused.
The trick? Designate areas of the board to specific uses. That way, your students will always know what to expect and where to find information. Find out more with these tips for better boardwork.
4. Talking too much
As teachers, we are enthusiastic about our subjects and want to help students love them, too! We share stories, give detailed answers to questions, and try to create a meaningful connection with our students. But be careful. The longer you talk, the more you cut valuable speaking time for your students. This is time they could be practicing, interacting, and becoming more independent.
The trick? Elicit answers rather than explaining everything yourself. Give students more time to answer your questions, rather than jumping in after two or three seconds. Don’t fear silence: It’s a needed, natural part of the classroom, not (always) a sign of awkwardness.
5. Complaining about administration
We understand. You’re tired and overwhelmed. You feel you might come across as a bad teacher when in fact management may have a hand in recent troubles. However, complaining about administration in front of your students makes them question you and your school’s integrity. Remember: your students’ experience is more than the one they have in your classroom. They need to trust that everybody has their best interests in mind.
The trick? Rather than complaining, if students mention something that is not your responsibility, let them know that you are not the person to talk to and be sure to point them in the right direction.
6. Not interrupting (when necessary)
Students hate feeling like their time is being wasted by a teacher or a classmate. Sometimes, one classmate will steal class time with unrelated comments, questions, or debate. Here, teachers tend to want to be nice and let the student talk, feeling it counts as participation and less teacher talking time. However, this strategy should be rethought: If let flourish, other classmates start resenting both teacher and peer.
The trick? Intervene. Let the student know that although this is an interesting discussion to have, you can talk about it in one of your next lessons. You can invite the student to stay after class or email you with their suggestions or comments if you have some extra time on your hands.
And you? What are some mistakes you have done as a teacher that you would like to improve? What are the mistakes you used to make but managed to correct? What advice would you give to new teachers who are just starting?