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Advice on being a teacher
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7/23/12 1:50 PM
I am about to start what I consider to be my first real job as a teacher. Prior to this I have tutored, led supplemental classes, and recitation sessions. Now I will be a lecturer for some low level math classes at my university. I'm really excited and somewhat nervous.

A lot of you are great teachers and I thought that I should ask for some advice. I really want to do the best job possible. It doesn't usually hinder my teaching too badly, but I sometimes have quite a bit of social awkwardness. Any advice for mitigating that would be appreciated too.

RE: Advice on being a teacher
Answer
7/23/12 5:41 PM as a reply to Aduro T.
Hey Joshua,

I'm not a teacher or anything, but I know a bit about how to increase confidence and using body language to your advantage in public situations. Nikolai did some proper, non-dharma. teaching so he's probably a good person to add something here, but I'll throw in my two cents anyway and see if there's anything useful I can suggest:

- Confidence can be learned, it's just a matter of changing your internal narrative and believing that you're becoming more confident by the day. Affirmations can help with this, but basically all that's required is a "fake it till you make it" approach, with emphasis always on the "make it" part. It really is that easy to do but requires you to completely accept that you can be confident and outgoing, so if there's some aspect of "you" that's not o.k. with that, maybe some unhelpful thinking patterns learned in childhood or whatever, then it's useful to investigate them further.

- The first time you walk into the class or lecture hall, make sure you've got your head up, shoulders back and walk in confidently. Stand at the front and scan the room slowly until everyone gets the message that it's time for you to talk before introducing yourself, make a show of it, ham it up a bit if you need to, but convey your authority, confidence and ability to teach these people the things they need to know in that first day and that's the impression they'll take away of you from then on. Again, believe that you can do it and go for it with gusto.

- Rather than letting your emotional reaction dominate, look logically at the reasons you're nervous and see that all of them, bar none, are based on something that isn't actually happening anywhere else other than 'in your head'. For example, it makes no sense whatsoever to get nervous, you've qualified as a teacher and have no doubt had some experience in teaching publicly during your training, so what is it that's so new and scary that it makes sense to get nervous?

- If you do notice yourself feeling nervous, try to pick up on what triggers those feelings and how you notice them manifesting. This is a more long-term project but worth the effort if you want to be rid of unhelpful behaviour.

- Realize that, as the teacher, you are the authority in the class and deserve the respect of your students. Of course, you should have respect for them too although I get the impression that you'd probably be like that naturally anyway, but there's a hierarchy in that environment and it's generally recognized by those present.

If I think of anything else I'll post it, but hopefully that's of some use in the meantime. Best of luck with your new job, I'm sure you'll manage fine, you've gotten this far already with it so why allow self-imposed limitations to prevent you from enjoying whatever comes along?!

RE: Advice on being a teacher
Answer
7/24/12 2:34 AM as a reply to Aduro T.
Joshua T:
I am about to start what I consider to be my first real job as a teacher. Prior to this I have tutored, led supplemental classes, and recitation sessions. Now I will be a lecturer for some low level math classes at my university. I'm really excited and somewhat nervous.

A lot of you are great teachers and I thought that I should ask for some advice. I really want to do the best job possible. It doesn't usually hinder my teaching too badly, but I sometimes have quite a bit of social awkwardness. Any advice for mitigating that would be appreciated too.


Hi Joshua,

In the beginning of my teaching expericne I was an awkward teacher as I didn't know well how to engage students. Eventually over the years I made it so that my lessons were more student orientated so that I wasn't the one talking all the time and providing more room for my awkwardness to show itself. I turned the spotlight around onto the students. If the students are engaged, then they wont be looking at you the whole time but attending to the activity of engagement. With time, as one learns how to teach well, the awkwardness goes away being replaced with knowing how to do things well. But in the meantime, make the class about the students engagement in the learning process rather than any awkwardness on your part. Then your not constantly in the spotlight which is what may trigger the awkwardness.

A badly planned class will blow up in your face and be quite a trigger for awkwardness too. Don't wing a class if you don't have to. Students know when a teacher hasn't planned their lesson well. Run it through your head if you have to the night before. When you have it planned well, then there is no room for much awkwardness to arise. Write down each activity in seiqence on a paper in bullet notes so that its bam, bam, bam, you do exactly what you planned in the order its planned. You set this up well, and the students will learn what your routine is and if you see them engaged by it, then your awkwardness will drop away quickly. Set up the lesson so that there is little chance of stumbling around, not knowing what you are doing, stuttering, flip flopping around making mistakes.

Do you remember your best most liked teacher/s in your life? Why did you like them? What was their teaching style? I have found being a student to be vital in working on being a good teacher (I taught English for 6 years). THe one thing I disliked as a student was not being engaged by the teacher. if it is simply a teacher orientated format you will get students not being engaged as it's simply the teacher talking. If the students aren't engaged by some other element apart from an innate interest and/or desire to do well in a test, then the possibility is there that they will get bored and type on their iphones.

The engaging part is up to you. Make what they have to learn be about them learning it in real time versus 'copy down what I say'. If you can, get students working on/engaged in something during class at least once to get them thinking about what they are learning. I just came from a 3 hour class. The teacher talked for 3 hours without much engagement at all. I have another teacher who makes all the students get together in pairs or groups to work on something related to what the theme of the lesson was. I remember much more from the latter class because the teacher engaged me and triggered my own learning processes. Not many people learn well by simply listening for 3 hours I don't think.

Engage your students.

Though maths is a theme I've never taught, I'm sure there are ways to engage even with such a topic.

RE: Advice on being a teacher
Answer
10/17/12 12:36 PM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Hi Nikolai and Tommy,

I wanted to say thanks for the advice on confidence you gave me. I've started teaching as of a few weeks ago and I've gone back to reread your posts occasionally. It's been a stressful start but it seems to be improving. I've still got to work on unhelpful thinking patterns. I think I'm doing a decent of 'faking it', with some stuttering and indecisiveness problems.

Just gave my first exam! It seemed to go well, but I haven't graded them quite yet. All but one of my classes are set up to be very 'engagement oriented' algebra classes. Those can be fun, and I'm learning to deal with unexpected issues (such as some students getting done early with an activity) that can arise in those environments. One of these is a pilot course, done this 'engagement oriented way' for the first time at our university.

RE: Advice on being a teacher
Answer
10/17/12 7:34 PM as a reply to Aduro T.
Here's a nice little trick for you. Very powerful, it is.

1. Have your class prepared, but don't overdo it.
2. Now factor in some awkwardness. Purposely drop your lecture notes. Purposely stutter over a few words. Purposely trip up the step as you enter the room. Purposely leave some pauses where you have nothing to say....nothing at all... just stare at the class blankly for a moment like you've forgotten what you're doing. Because you're in control, the shame and fear magically disappear. Next time it happens unexpectedly there will be much less reaction.

Never try to be perfect. Never practise "confident body language" but instead practise being yourself without shame, even if you're a weird little hunchback gnome. Be imperfect and shameless.

RE: Advice on being a teacher
Answer
10/17/12 10:46 PM as a reply to Aduro T.
Joshua T:
I am about to start what I consider to be my first real job as a teacher. Prior to this I have tutored, led supplemental classes, and recitation sessions. Now I will be a lecturer for some low level math classes at my university. I'm really excited and somewhat nervous.

A lot of you are great teachers and I thought that I should ask for some advice. I really want to do the best job possible. It doesn't usually hinder my teaching too badly, but I sometimes have quite a bit of social awkwardness. Any advice for mitigating that would be appreciated too.

Some food for thought:

Book: "The Art Of Learning", by Josh Waitzkin
Video: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html (Google for more on Sir Ken -- can be a bit "out there" but as I say good food for thought)
Website: http://calnewport.com/books/ and his blog http://calnewport.com/blog/

And another book, for possible application to your students, but mostly for application to *you* if you'd like to become a "master" of teaching: http://www.amazon.com/Mastery-Keys-Success-Long-Term-Fulfillment/dp/0452267560

Oh, another book, while I remember: http://www.amazon.com/Mindset-Psychology-Success-Carol-Dweck/dp/0345472322/. I haven't actually read that one, but I know of Dweck's ideas and I think she's sound.

If I had to pick a single Most Important Message that a teacher can convey to their students -- especially in something like math -- is that up to a very high level, *anyone* can learn to do it. Sure, it sounds a bit implausible that anyone and everyone can be a Gauss, Euler, Erdos or Goedel. Fair enough. But anyone and everyone *can* be extremely capable at math, provided they work at it effectively (10,000 hours of deliberate practice an' all that.) The statement "I'm just not mathematically minded" should be consigned, along with the statement "I just don't have the artistic gene", to the trash.

The key to being able to put in that work is:
1. Passion on the part of the student -- they have to *want* it
2. A teacher who can help them in their deliberate practice (that's you that is! :-) )
3. Time, environment, luck/opportunity to deploy 1 under the guidance of 2

The point is, as Geoff Colvin says (oh, *another* book!): "Talent Is Overrated" http://www.amazon.com/Talent-Overrated-World-Class-Performers-EverybodyElse/dp/1591842948

Good luck. Have fun. And remember, (deliberate) practice makes perfect.

RE: Advice on being a teacher
Answer
10/17/12 11:17 PM as a reply to Aduro T.
I do take private tuitions in Maths and although I haven't taught a whole classroom , what I've found out
is that if I have good subject knowledge , then there is nothing to be worried about.
The only way I've found to engage students in Maths is to ask the students to tell the next step
in solving the problem. Also , maintaining a balance between authority and fun is important..the middle
path here as well emoticon
Cheers n all the best !

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