Developing and improving teaching abilities

A person standing next to the teaching board

It could be argued to a great extent that teaching is the noblest career to pursue. Teachers build people, and people build nations. Some of the most influential characters of history were teachers Socrates, Aristotle (the teacher of the great Alexander), and Buddha among others. So deciding to become a teacher, therefore, means you’re in good company.

Teaching isn’t just a career, it is also a skill. And like most skills, it cannot be developed overnight.  There needs to be a dedicated attempt at researching, developing and improving your skills in order to be the very best at what you do.

Reflective practice

One skill that could prove very useful to a tutor is reflective practice. Reflective learning, as the name implies, is a method of learning where the teacher allows the students to reflect on what they’ve learned. In a professional sense, it could be referred to as reflective practice as propounded by scholars such as David Kolb and David Schone. It is essentially a teaching method where one reflects on one’s actions and thoughts in order to gain more insight into the concepts learned.  The rationale behind this is that experience might not necessarily lead to learning; reflection is needed for a proper understanding of concepts to take place. That is, students are urged to think and then think about what they’ve thought about. This practice, when done properly, leads to a deeper understanding of subject matter and continuous learning.

Importance of reflective practice in teaching

Reflective practice is of great benefit to teachers. This is because it allows them to adapt to different situations and give logical responses or attitudinal changes when needed. A good example is a situation where as a teacher you feel that your students are being intentionally difficult. With the proper use of the relative practice, you’ll come to understand what response to give to the situation and the chances of that response working. People are constantly evolving, and young adults are more prone to evolution than most. It helps to have a mindset that enables teachers to evolve too and “get up to speed” with constant changes.

That is, more than being used by the students, reflective practice can be used far more by the teachers. What subject matter is more complicated than the effective teaching of students? What concept is harder to understand that the best way to present difficult topics in an attractive manner? To survive in the world of knowledge impartation, it is important to understand your feelings and emotions and why you have those feelings. This way you are able to give adequate responses to situations that take place in the classroom.

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Managing your workload

Teachers, especially ones in charge of a large group of students, have a very big workload. Lessons have to be prepared, assignments have to be given out and marked, extensive research on the subject matter must be carried out and teaching must be done. It all gets a little bit overwhelming sometimes. This can sometimes lead to frustration and thereby impede learning. Teachers need to be able to effectively manage their workload.

There are different strategies to manage your workload of course, and it is important to choose a strategy that suits your living pattern the best.

Some of the strategies that can be employed are;

1.   Understanding the work you have to do.

Keep a mental or physical note of all the work you need to do and the deadlines. This helps you to be focused on the important aspects of your job and prevents you from being carried away by frivolous activities.

2.   Prioritize your work

Having kept a note of everything you need to do, it is important to prioritize. Arrange tasks on a scale of preference. Important tasks should be at the very top of your list. This helps when you have limited time (as no one has unlimited time) to get the jobs done. Even if you don’t meet your deadlines you will have accomplished the most important tasks. It is important to categorize your tasks too. A helpful question to ask yourself when categorizing your tasks should be, what happens if I don’t do this? This helps you decide important tasks by the potential impact that they will have on your job and in the life of your students.

3.   Delete strategy

Perhaps a radical method of managing your workload is just to delete. Sometimes some tasks aren’t just that important. After categorizing your work into more important and less important classes, you will invariably come across some tasks that just don’t have a meaningful impact on the job you aim to achieve. Sometimes it is good to just delete such tasks.

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4.     Improve capacity

Another way to manage your workload is to improve your capacity for work. Learning new managing techniques and using technology effectively in processing information better will help you get done with your tasks faster. It is also useful to consider establishing a routine. This helps to get your mind off schedule arrangement and other such directions as you would already have a timetable for relevant activities.

Behavior control

As teachers work with students who can be moody, unresponsive and prone to displaying a plethora of unproductive behaviors, it is important to have behavioral management skills. While most teachers will agree that establishing rules, a definite pattern of consequences and rewards, and a position of authority helps manage the behavior of students, these strategies aren’t the most effective.

1.   Strong teacher-student relationship

According to several studies, the most important factor that establishes proper behavior in students is a strong teacher-student relationship. If a teacher has a strong relationship with students, the students are more likely to display productive behaviors towards learning. In addition to this, students are more likely to avoid bad behavior if the teacher notices everything. If students understand that they cannot get away with anything, they are more likely to behave themselves. Positioning yourself in a way that you are able to see the whole class would aid this strategy as students would come to understand that your eyes are on them all the time.

2.     Restructuring your teaching

It is also important to structure your teaching. When dealing with a difficult class or even a difficult topic it is important to have a clear lesson goal. What do you want your students to understand at the end of the lesson? What can they do to achieve this? Are there any particularly difficult sections of the lesson? And if there are, how can you ease understanding of these parts? Asking these questions before each lesson makes your classless susceptible to disruptions.

3.     Nipping problems

Nipping problems in the bud can be a good and often very effective solution to problems involving student behavior. Waiting for problems to fester or giving students too much leeway can often prove counter-productive. It is often easier and more effective to correct bad behavior on the spot and move on with the lesson.

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4.     Reinforcing good behavior

The practice of reinforcing good behavior can also not be overstated. But applying this tactic to groups can breed good behavior in a wholesale manner. By doing this you’re creating management or self-enforcing traits within groups. This helps because the power of peer pressure can help dissuade and isolate dissident elements within the class group.

Assessment strategies

Since the ultimate goal of teaching is learning, assessment becomes an important part of the teaching process. Often when teachers talk of assessment they mean standardized test and exams, but often the results of these tests can be very misleading.

1.     Other ways of assessing the progress of students

Other ways of assessing the progress of students can give teachers a deeper understanding of the progress made by their students. For example, asking the students an open-ended question that gets them discussing and/or writing can make teachers understand exactly how much their students understand. Asking students to reflect on the lesson that they’ve been taught is also a good way of assessing the progress made during the lesson. It also helps to ask them about what they’ve learned and perhaps how they could apply this knowledge in a practical setting. In addition, it is helpful to ask students to summarize all they’ve learned immediately after the lessons as this helps measure how much they’ve learned.

2.     Differentiated learning approach in teaching

As a class is usually filled with students with different learning styles, you should consider using the differentiated learning approach in teaching. Differentiated learning is an educational philosophy that focuses on providing different learning avenues for students. This is especially useful in a class where there are many students with different ways of learning.

Teachers can use differentiated learning approach by setting up different learning stations in the class. For example, one learning station could make use of visual aids such as videos, another could make use of articles and yet another could make use of artwork. These ensure that no matter the learning style of any student, they aren’t left behind. Interviewing students and giving them personalized attention helps in identifying learning peculiarities and can also help teachers to adjust the structure of lessons to benefit more students.

Conclusively, while all these will make you a better teacher, it is important to note that continuous learning is the only way to gain more knowledge. Teachers are urged to increase their capacity so that they will become the very best at their jobs.

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