The lesson starts here

Nobody said teaching is easy - but a few principles help.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
As part of my degree course at Newcastle University (German with Swedish - Kate Adie was a favourite colleague) I had to spend a year abroad in 1965-66, teaching. Before leaving for the station to catch the train to London and then to Dover, then to catch the ferry to the Hook of Holland, then to catch the train to Germany, (I suspect that they go by plane these days) I broke down in tears.

I was about to teach, a profession for which I had not been trained, in a foreign country, in a foreign language. I was frightened. My father, the youngest headmaster appointed by the, then, most progressive of LEAS, Leicestershire, sympathised. He poured me a glass of Scotch (in 1965 this was very avant garde) and promised to send me a full guide to teaching. His letter arrived a few days later.

A few weeks ago, I found his letter among some old papers. It was written on the old "azure" octavo Basildon Bond paper. He will never forgive me for being about to reveal all his secrets about how to teach. Who needs to spend money on a BEd or a PGCE, when my father's advice can be read free of charge?

1 The best teachers are those who make fewer mistakes than the others. We all have failures: the great thing is not to be rattled by them, but to learn from them.

2 Never lose your temper, and don't raise your voice constantly. Always keep something vocal in reserve, ready for emergencies. If anyone transgresses, a tone of righteous indignation is better than anger, even if you are merely pretending. This point is closely allied to:

3 A teacher always receives the standards of work and conduct that he expects. The wise teacher therefore makes it perfectly clear from the start exactly what he or she demands: if standards fall short of this, the righteous indignation follows.

4 If you encounter trouble, never make threats you cannot carry out. Keep calm! But, equally, do not use sarcasm. This is a double-edged weapon with (sometimes) unfortunate consequences.

5 "Well-lathered is half-shaved." See that preparation is thorough. This gives you confidence from the moment you enter the classroom. But see that you are clear on details of method as well as of material. As we say in teaching, "time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted" (this applies to other things, apart from warfare).

6 Never begin talking until everyone is quiet, and the atmosphere is to your satisfaction. In this way you convey to the pupils the standards you expect, right from the start. This applies at all times: if, for example, your class is doing some written work and you wish them to stop whilst you explain a point, do not begin until everyone has obeyed your order to look at you, or put pens down, or look at the blackboard, or whatever you want them to do. They will soon realise you are someone who knows what he wants, and who will see that he gets it and isn't prepared to accept anything less. You'll get it!

7 Get out on the football field with them if you can, but do not try to treat them as your younger brothers. Keep an invisible but substantial barrier between themselves and you: at arm's length, as it were. Over- familiarity always breeds contempt.

8 Remember, a teacher must be a thorough actor. Don't be afraid to gesticulate, or to develop flexibility of voice - all this leads to the projection of a positive personality, and teaching is largely a matter of personality projection. This is difficult unless one is relaxed, but don't expect the secret of relaxation to arrive quickly. It is one of the most difficult qualities for a young teacher to cultivate, and often takes years. But acting at being an actor will help - though this doesn't mean being excitable.

9 A teacher is not teaching unless he or she is also learning. Education is a relationship of persons, in which teacher and pupil learn and are thereby changed. Hence we develop the essential quality of humility.

10 Finally, if you are depressed and need a good laugh, or are wondering if your work is effective or your methods are right, recall memories of Wyggeston (my old school). Who gained the boys' respect? Basher Watts or Bill Gould? Why? Who had the best class control? What was it based on? Who had the strongest personalities? You may lack teaching experience, but you have the advantage of recent experience as a "customer", and can therefore gauge pretty accurately what your pupils are thinking and feeling.

11 I nearly forgot - when questioning, see that all parts of the class are brought into action. A common fault with beginners is to concentrate unduly on those near them. Don't neglect those at the back or on the flanks - and see that the reluctant ones are pressed into action. They may be intelligent but lazy, and content to let the others do the work if they can get away with it."

What a man! He could save the country millions of pounds in training costsn

The author is Chief Executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service

It's all under control: creating the learning environment

Comments