Sunday, January 20, 2013

11 Pretty Good Rules for Teaching: A Guest Blog by Del Hansen

Del Hansen has been a full-time teacher and administrator for over thirty years. He has taught math and physics to high school students and currently teaches algebra and geometry to eighth graders. I consider Del one of the finest educators I have known, and I wanted to share his recommendations for good teaching. Enjoy! – Jim

Good teaching is good teaching. Whether a teacher discusses Macbeth, the Doppler Effect, quadratic functions, or the Taft-Hartley Act, there are approaches to communicating content material with students that are timeless.

Over the years, I have attended numerous workshops and seminars in my subject area. Although always learning something new and interesting, I have observed that very often the most valuable time was spent during the breaks, at dinner, or sitting around the lobby of the hotel late at night talking to fellow teachers. During those delicious moments, one not only heard about new ideas and approaches, but the conversations often validated one’s own teaching philosophy through the eyes, hands, and habits of true practitioners. Sometimes one needs to hear that from colleagues.

Using my own hard-earned experiences and borrowing ideas from great teachers, I have arrived at some conclusions about good teaching. Over the decades, I have codified them into “Eleven Pretty Good Rules According to Del.” They are:

1. There is absolutely no substitute for subject matter expertise, excellent preparation, and contagious enthusiasm. None.

2. You must like children and young adults. Do not go into education if kids are going to be the enemy.

3. You must believe deep in your heart that every student can learn. It is the job of the teacher to find ways for every student to experience some success. While all students are not equal academically, they deserve equal opportunity and access to an education.

4. Self-esteem cannot be conferred. Students need to earn their grades and be proud of their accomplishments. Good teachers find ways for students to be successful beyond paper and pencil assessment.

5. A teacher must come to class prepared every day. Students can immediately sense if the teacher doesn’t know what he or she is doing. It can be like sharks to blood. Do not voluntarily be a part of the lower food chain.

6. The best classroom management/discipline plan is a good lesson plan.

7. Be fair, firm, and friendly. A teacher does not have to be a buddy, though. A pleasant, non-confrontational atmosphere is certainly conducive to learning, but being liked is not necessary for one to discharge the duties to which he has been assigned. I know I function better when my class is a friendly, safe, and happy place. I assume the students learn better when it is that way, too.

8. Remember that the class and subject you teach may not be the most important thing in your student’s life on a particular day. Keep things in rational perspective. Your demonstration of concern and kindness to that child may be the only positive reinforcement they get that day. It never hurts to smile on purpose.

9. Students should look forward to my class each day, even if we are learning dreadfully unexciting stuff. The best compliment a teacher can receive is for kids to say, “That’s already the bell? Boy, this class went fast!”

10. Never take yourself too seriously. I have discovered, over the decades, that my philosophy of teaching is simply “to stay one step ahead of the men in the white coats.” I can be pretty bizarre at times, but that is just my persona. I believe it is important for students to see you as a real person, and not merely a sage on the stage. It is important for you to be as human and humane as you can be to your students. Always ask yourself at the end of the day: “Would I have wanted to spend an entire class period with me?”

11. Teaching is all about making connections with other human beings. We are not just information dispensers and test preparation technicians. We should be professionals. We ARE teachers.

I have never regretted for a moment choosing teaching as my life‘s work. Although teachers almost always have lingering concerns about personal finances and seemingly incoherent policies and regulations imposed by non-educators, every so often you are reminded why you went into this crazy profession. The other day, at brunch with friends, the waitress said, “Which of you is Mr. Hansen?” I instantly thought, “Oh gosh, what have I done now?” I could envision my car being towed away by Zebo’s Crush It N Bury It Towing Service. Instead, she said an anonymous man in the restaurant wanted you to know that you were the best teacher he ever had. Slightly embarrassed, I said, “Thank you,” and mentally cashed one of those million dollar teacher checks a teacher sometimes receives. It is still a great profession.

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