Nine Things Students Taught Me

Words: 466

“Very little, but I learn a lot,” is the answer I’m most tempted to give when asked, “What do you teach?”  A bit smart-assed, perhaps, but personally accurate.  Over the years I’ve learned a lot about teaching from students.

Here’s a brief, incomplete list:

  1. Be happy – If the students are willing to be in class with you, rather than doing something else with their time, then you should be happy that they are there. I have never seen a good teacher who unhappy in class, but I have seen a lot of bad teachers who were. Being happy also makes the students happy, which is a great starting point.
  2. Be prepared – The guy playing guitar at the local coffee shop has practiced more at getting it right than most teachers. Don’t let it be true in your case.  Practice your presentation.  Take notes on when the questions were asked so you’ll be ready next time. Chart your time so that you know where the class is and where it needs to be at any given moment. Make sure your PC and projector work; open web pages and ramp up videos before class – no searching while students wait. Count out handouts before class and, if you can, distribute them beforehand. You want to see a class lose momentum? Give a stack of handouts to a student and say, “take one and pass it back.” Waiting is boring.
  3. Cold call – Randomly call on students whether they have raised a hand or not.  This is the best way to get everyone to pay attention and participate. Related to this is the no pass rule.  Nobody passes on a question. If they don’t know the answer, they get the next question, and warn them that you are coming back to them.
  4. No partial answers — A half-good answer is not a good answer so don’t accept it as one. Students know a bad answer when they hear it and pretending doesn’t fool them. Ask others to help complete the answer.
  5. Silence is OK – Students need time to think. Let them talk to fill the void, not you.
  6. Open-ended questions are useful questions Yes or No questions do not elicit thoughtful answers. Ask an open-ended question and then be quiet and listen.
  7. Napoleon had it right — Insubordination is often the sign of a strong mind. Allow it within reason. Thinking critically is, or should be, an act of loyal insubordination.
  8. Ask for more — Most students are only going to do as much as you ask them to do, or a little less. So ask for more.
  9. Be fair — Recognize hard work and reward good work.

There’s more, but I’ve to learned to stop before losing the audience’s attention.

(This originally appeared at Globis.jp, in a series on critical thinking.)