Thursday, August 03, 2006

On Teaching

I have just completed my fourth full year as a teacher. Over this period I have been fortunate to teach a variety of courses learning not only much about pedagogy but also about life itself. Below is a list of the courses that I have taught (# = Grade level).

Chemistry 11 (Advanced)
Biology 11 (Advanced)
Physics 11 (Advanced)
Science 9 (Advanced)
Science 10 (Regular and Advanced)
Ancient History 11 (Advanced)
Physics 12 (Advanced)
Philosophy 12 (Advanced)

In addition I have tutored the following courses:

Calculus 12
Algebra 12
Chemistry 12
Biology 12
Math 11
Math 10
Math 9
History 10

Who says it doesn't pay to be a generalist?

Here are twenty lessons that I have learnt. Some of them may run counter to common wisdom.

1. Students respect high standards in the long run.
2. Students abhor favouritism more than anything else.
3. Most people have to be taught to think for themselves.
4. Minimizing work effort is a human characteristic.
5. Students hate being challenged in the short run but its critical to their learning They know this but don't want to admit it.
6. About 70% of the material in a high school textbook is of little benefit to the student . It merely serves to bump the cost of the textbook up.
7. The calculator is a curse when teaching problem solving.
8. Student's have to be taught to imagine. Active imagination is a dying art.
9. Concept linkage across courses is a rarity in intermediate education. This comes back to haunt students later on in their high school life.
10. A teacher has to be able to explain a concept in at least three different ways.
11. A teacher should be on his/her feet as often as possible. Desk teaching is not as effective.
12. Lesson plans never run according to plan. They only make Administrators happy.
13. 80% of all asignments are completed the day before.
14. There is no limit to mark scrounging. It is important to remain firm for fear of opening the floodgates.
15. Punish the small errors heavily on the quizzes. Relax a bit on the tests where the small errors will lekely be at a minimum.
16. 30% of one's time in physics involves reteaching math skills and old knowledge that somehow 'vanished' in the summer.
17. There is a fine point of action that exists between the soggy glove and the iron fist. Be compassionate but remember that at the end of the day its the knowledge that counts. If the student's don't demonstrate that they have furthered their knoweledge than they should not advance in the subject.
18. Only 20% of students blame themselves for their shortfalls. Its far easy to point the finger at somebody else (come to think of it are adults any different?)
19. Inject excitement into a topic (this is where being a generalist helps). Even such dull topics as vector algebra can be livened up . This is the challenge of the teacher.
20. Never underestimate the amount of different ways that a question can be misinterpreted.
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