I’m going to share with you a dirty little secret.* I haven’t always been a teacher. Once upon a time, I was a professional Tarot reader and Palmist.** *** Aside from the technical aspects of the job (like knowing how to read Tarot cards well without freaking out your customer) was being able to read your customer. Getting a feeling for how well the reading was going was a good indication.
That skill is invaluable as a teacher. I think any performer can tell you when their audience is entertained, bored, or lost. The same thing should apply to teachers, but anyone with experience as a student knows that this isn’t always the case. This is one of the reasons that I say at least half of teaching is entertainment. Once you know what to say, knowing how to say it in a way that it gets across is important.
There is another aspect of keeping a class engaged though, and that is keeping them challenged. There is a balancing act in every class between keeping the material relevant to students who are struggling with the material as well as keeping the interest of those who are already past it. If you can’t keep them interested, then no amount of entertainment can keep them studying.
- Once you have given your general instructions, then you can give more and more difficult examples to show the utility.
- You can preview future material for those who are already ahead (note: definitely revisit the material later, because not everyone will be capable of keeping up).
- Keep it real! A lot of students get bored in a math class if there isn’t an obvious application. If you can give them examples of how the math they learn can be used in the world, they will retain the information more and be more interested in other topics.
- In order to be interesting, you need to be obviously interested. If you can find the topics that energize the students, talk to those topics. I find lecturing on zombies is a lot of fun, but I’ve talked on everything from lasers to video games will often keep the student’s attention.
- One-on-one time. For students who seem to be getting ahead, I like to ask them if they’re getting bored. I have a file full of exercises I call “next level,” for students who are ready to work on more challenging topics.
Every class is different, and each class will have it’s own personality. I have very obedient students this quarter****, and they have worked faster than I had anticipated. I’ve had to advance their lecture schedule, and advance it again…. But every class is different. Keeping them in balance is one of the main challenges we teachers face.
It is important to know when to push them.
I love my job.
* Get your mind out of the gutter. This isn’t that kind of blog!
** I quit doing that a long time ago. Part of the reason is that I became an atheist. And the tips kind of sucked.
*** Any student who asks me for a reading will immediately fail. So don’t even try.
**** It is so weird! And kind of cool too — they listen for the most part, and they do their work.