Friday, January 6, 2012

Little things that actually matter

Back in 2004, over the course of 4 months, in what seems like an entirely different lifetime, I hiked (most of!) the Appalachian Trail (or trial as perhaps it should be known as).  There are 2 ways to do it:

1. The ultra-light way.  These people are extremely focused on reducing the amount of weight in their packs in order to reduce the wear and tear on their bodies and are able to go faster and further, with less effort.  They are known to cut off tags, modify packs or even sew their own, spend huge amounts of money on the lightest sleeping bag, sleep under a mini-tarp and other things like that.  Often, they get mistaken for day-hikers, even though they are carrying everything they need for 4 or 5 days on the trail.

2. The everything but the kitchen sink style.  This needs no explanation.

I fell into camp one.  And I never regretted it for a second.  My mantra was: "ounces = pounds."  It means that while you may think that an extra t-shirt at 7 ounces, a few caribiners at 3 ounces, rain paints at 12 ounces, or a bear bell as 2 ounces, a novel at 9 ounces and a pot at 8 ounces doesn't really matter.  And actually, it doesn't really if you choose only one of these things.  The problem is when you choose them all, you have almost 4 pounds of extra weight.

I think that teaching is kind of the same thing.  Little things add up.  You can do the little things right and have the end result of happy students, progress made, smiling faces all around, and ultimately good evaluations at the end.  Or you can do all the little things wrong and have a pretty bad semester with non-participating students, frowning faces, and bad evaluations.  

Here is my list of a few of the little things that you can do right:

1. Be in class before the students.  Nothing looks less professional than someone who rushes around after the students are there, struggling to get the powerpoint up and all their papers out.  Contrast this to someone who is prepared by the time most of the students are there and is able to personally greet each one as they walk in the door, in a relaxed kind of way.

2. Where are you going?  People like to know what's happening.  Write up a little schedule for the day on one side of the board, and leave it there for the entire class.  Check off stuff as you do it, so everyone knows where they're at.  This can help you stay organized as well and not forget stuff.  Of course this assumes that you have a lesson plan (some uni teachers I know do not).

3. Avoid dead-time.  This requires some organization.  I will never, ever write more than a few words on the board while the students are waiting.  I come early and try to write most of the text I'm using for that class before they get there.  This means I usually do the grammar/vocab lesson first or second in my lesson plan.  Or, if I do it in the middle, I'll get the students working on something and then do my writing on the board.  Dead-time can be hard to recover from, because your students lose their focus.

4. Don't hide behind the powerpoint.  Teaching is about relationship.  It's not about flashy powerpoints.  Students just want to make a connection with you and with each other and have a place where they feel safe and welcomed.

5. Names are important.  If you can't memorize all the student's names, get them to use name-tags on their desks.  It's better than saying, " is the answer."

6. Eye contact.  Try to scan the entire class within a 20 second period of talking.  Every single student. So you'll make eye contact with each student 3 times in one minute.   Most teachers have a dead-spot that they just don't look at for some reason.  For me, it's usually the first and second rows on the right.  I fight against this every class. 

7. Never put students on the spot.  This is a big no-no in Korea.  No ones like to feel shame because they didn't know the answer.  To avoid this, I'll always give the students some pre-practice before I elicit an answer, either by doing some writing in their books, or speaking with their partner or in a small group.

8. Smile.  This is important.  I actually get a surprising amount of comments from the students on my evaluations about how they like my big smile.


music.maid said...

Great blog! Keep it up! After 1.5 years at a hagwon, I am starting at a university in March. God bless my lucky stars ***

ayahyaha said...

This is an extremely useful list. As a teacher trainer, these are some of the things I really try to drill into trainees. I have found over the years that a lot can be forgiven by the students if this list is followed by the teacher. Thanks for the run-down and the always-needed reminder -- I think after reading this I will finally go and buy a USB remote control for my PowerPoint presentations.

Jackie Bolen said...

Congratulations Music Maid!

SS said...

Well said and I like the analogy at the beginning. I agree that it's all about relationships; the affective side of learning/teaching is really important.