catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 17 :: 2011.09.30 — 2011.10.13


The Reader’s Digest version: B.S. Education

I was thirteen years old when my life-long dream of becoming a nurse was dashed. (This is a place where you can laugh.) The book I was  reading about nurses in training described in graphic detail how some aspiring nurses fainted dead away during their first autopsy. In a surge of altruism, not wanting the rest of the class to be distracted by my certain swoon in another autopsy room, I gave up my dream and vowed to consider the education field.

That was over 40 years ago, and I have spent those years as an accidental teacher (that’s another story), a (home schooling) teacher of my own children in Africa, a teacher of English as a Second Language to Central American migrant workers, a Bible teacher and sewing teacher in Africa, a cooking instructor in adult vacation Bible school, a Christian school teacher and, for the last twenty-five years, a college teacher, in both a traditional classroom and online. So what have I learned?

  1. Care about your students. If you care about them, and see them as a trust, you will do a better job. It will matter to you how well-prepared you are and how well they do, and you will adjust your expectations to the ability of each student — because it matters to you not just what they learn, but how they feel about themselves, as created by God.
  2. Do your homework as a teacher. Generally speaking, you have to know way more than your students do about your material. You have to imagine all the questions they could ask about your material and be prepared to answer them. AND, you have to know where to refer them to explore the subject further if you have successfully awakened their interest.
  3. You have to be a good question-asker, asking directive questions, not yes or no questions. You have to desire and know how to stir up their curiosity, to make them want to know what you have to teach.
  4. Enlist them in the learning.  It is amazing what they already know, and if you involve them in the building of their knowledge (a process called constructivism) they will learn how to think critically and learn, much more than memorizing. When I taught English as a Second Language, we role-played in situations they would face. We did not memorize conjugations, but practical dialogue.  When I taught my children fractions and “baking theory,” I set them up with a recipe for their favorite, Wacky Cake, and an array of measuring devices.  They wanted the cake, but they had to apply what they learned about fractions to make it.
  5. Be clear and thorough, whether you are giving content, or instructions for a test. Have your students tell you back what you said.  Consider using this technique at the end of class: have each student tell you one thing he or she is going to remember.  By the way, this is a great tool to see how well you have communicated what you thought you did.
  6. Next to finally, remember that all of your students do not learn in the same way. Make an effort to present material visually as well as orally.  If it as all possible, create ways for your students to experiment with the material, even if the experiment occurs as part of small group discussions.
  7. And lastly for this nutshell condensation of a four-year education program: be humble enough to say, “I don’t know, but let’s look it up.”  (Yay, for technology and wonderful old-fashioned books).

And readers, that’s what I learned about being a teacher.

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