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Teaching in public schools today is tough—very tough. Children and adolescents have traditionally had a myriad of issues in their lives ranging from physical, social, and emotional changes to familial concerns. What makes the beginning of the twenty-first century a unique time, though, is not just these issues, but the issues facing society as well. This is a time inundated with technology and motivated by speed. Exposure to multimedia including fast-paced images and sound begins shortly after birth. Today’s teachers must compete with television; they must compete with video games; and they must compete with movies.
Unfortunately, many students tend to not want to be in school because it fails to entertain and challenge them. I contend it is the responsibility of the teacher to create an environment that is fun and challenging for students. No one wants to read a boring book. No one wants to listen to a boring lecture. No one wants to do repetitive tasks. As an educator, I have a responsibility to find alternative means of engaging my students’ interests— alternatives evidenced when reviewing characteristics of good teachers.
First, good teachers love to teach. The result is the creation of classrooms where students enjoy learning. Students gain knowledge because they engage in the process of learning by choice, not because they have completed the necessary seat-time. Realizing learning is enjoyable is not only a good model for K-12 education and higher education, but also for lifelong learning.
Second, good teachers encourage lifelong learning. They instill passion in their students so that when the school day is over or the final class bell rings for summer vacation, students are eager to continue their learning. Additionally, good teachers provide students the tools they need to continue learning independent of the teacher.
Third, good teachers appeal to multiple modalities and intelligences. They recognize the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive needs of their students and create an instructional arena addressing those needs. They incorporate alternative learning styles into their teaching and assessment strategies and engage in hands-on activities. Their focus is on the individual learner and creating authentic experiences. They make learning an adventure — it’s exciting to be in their classrooms… it’s not monotonous. There’s something new and worthwhile everyday.
Good teachers are committed to instruction and do not waste time in class. They recognize that every minute is a teachable moment. They use their strong grasp of the course content along with their creativity to deliver understandable and authentic learning. They practice teaching as an art and they challenge their students to achieve beyond what the students think they are capable of doing.
Finally, good teachers are professional. They deal diplomatically with students, parents, and other professionals. They recognize that their learning in no way stops with the diploma on their wall. Their learning continues everyday in the classroom as they learn from their students and continues with in-service education opportunities. Additionally, they accept the responsibility of developing in-service opportunities for others.
As a teacher educator, it is my responsibility to model good teaching behaviors. I must impress upon my students that my content area is provocative and interesting. Because the content area is fun and exciting, my students will engage in professional development related to that area after their tenure in my classes. More importantly, they will be motivated to initiate their own creative energies in developing their own exciting classrooms.
The courses I have designed for higher education contexts are intended to immerse students in a teaching and learning environment where they may witness certain skills and media being presented while practicing with these in a supportive environment. Students learn what is possible and how to adapt those possibilities for use in their future classrooms. Too often in higher education, it is assumed that students can hear a lecture and be prepared to implement their new knowledge in real-life contexts. Because teaching is a craft, simply hearing about methods or media is much less effective than experiencing and practicing with them. Furthermore, as teachers become comfortable with a specific method or technology in a controlled setting, even if experienced in the role of student as opposed to instructor, this heightens their confidence when they choose to utilize it in their own classrooms.
In my courses, I try to implement an approach similar to that proposed by Madeline Hunter. I tell students what to do, show them how to do it, assist them in doing it, and then allow them independent practice to enhance their skills. An example of this process appears with student-generated lesson plans. In readings and lectures, I explain to students what lesson plans are and which elements are critical to include. Next, I provide students with examples and outlines of possible lesson plan templates. In groups or as a class, we design a lesson plan. Finally, students are required to engage in independent lesson planning. The Hunter method is replicated throughout my courses through many activities such as portfolio development.
Likewise, I teach students proper lesson presentation methods by engaging in these during each session. I model typical classroom structure by following strict lesson plans. These lessons always begin with a sponge activity followed by an opening. The sponge activity is meant to introduce students to instructional methodologies while preparing them for the day’s lesson. The opening, like the closing, is a brief time to review administrative issues (e.g., answer student questions, assign readings and homework) and check for student understanding of lesson material. Both an opening and closing are considered essential elements of good lesson planning and delivery (see Dick and Carey and Gagné).
Within the body of each lesson, activities vary widely; however, they tend to follow a consistent structure—lecture, demonstration, guided practice. The modeling of instructional methodologies within class sessions is the most critical aspect of my course designs.
If I am successful in my course design and delivery, my students will gain a passion for the course content that will outlive the course itself. They will be proud of themselves for achieving beyond what they thought was possible. And, they will use the knowledge they’ve gained in their future classrooms, transfer that knowledge to new contexts, and become independent, lifelong learners of that content.