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How can I be the best teacher?

  1. The most important thing you can do as a teacher is to instill the joy of learning into your students. Some students start the school year anxious, worried, down and unmotivated about school so I asked myself, “how can I help them to be more relaxed, happier and eager to learn?” I taught high school and thought about how excited kindergarteners are and wanted my students to keep or rekindle that kindergarten joy. Sounds like a pretty big challenge but I loved that challenge and embraced it. Here are the strategies I used to do that:

    1. Stimulate student curiosity before each new lesson topic. I started by finding ways to hook students by setting them up with a cognitive disconnect and then letting them work in teams to try and figure out what was happening. This could be a quick demonstration, a short video, a perplexing question, etc.. For example: When I was teaching chemistry one demonstration I did was to put a flame under two different inflated balloons. One popped with a big bang, exploding into pieces that fell to the floor, the other balloon did not. I could put a flame to the bottom of that balloon over and over again and nothing happened. My student’s job was to try and figure out why. This led to a lesson on the heat capacity of water. The balloons were black so the students could not see that one balloon had water inside. This was quick, fun and got students excited and interested in learning more. This is called a discrepant event. This is just one example of the many, many things teachers can do to get students interested and excited to learn. Another example is from a lesson on density. I provided each table team with a clear plastic tub with water in it, aluminum foil and multiple assorted items of varying densities. Their job was to make a foil boat and then put as many items in the boat as possible without sinking the boat. Each item represented some important object that a person in a boat would want. All of the boats sank at some point and students would try again. It was only after they became curious about what made the boat sink or float that I introduced the concept and the math computations for density. This approach to teaching is fun for the teacher as well!

    2. Be as positive and upbeat as you are able. If you are excited about teaching and about your students, then your students will catch your enthusiasm.

    3. Create lesson plans that you are looking forward to teaching. If you don’t feel too thrilled about the plan, modify it until you are!

    4. Utilize peer tutors. I often had as many as 38–40 high school chemistry students. I am just one person and in a 53 minute period cannot get to each student so…..I needed my peer tutors. Each time I would introduce a new topic, say balancing chemical equations, I would pay attention to which students understood right away. Then I would ask those students to go to other table teams and using a large whiteboard (I had one for each table team) show the team how to do it. At first, I might only have 2–3 peer tutors and then as the students at the tables the tutors went to understood, then they would become peer tutors as well. This would continue and grow to 4–5 peer tutors and then 6–7. Within 10–12 minutes there were enough students that understood that now the entire class was helping each other in one big happy tutoring session. There is no way I could have done this on my own. Plus, because students “sink” or “stick” their learning by teaching others, the entire class got better at the process.

    5. Teach your students how their brains learn. When students understand how learning happens, they are WAY more encouraged to try. If they feel stupid (common problem) then they tend to give up. Once students understand what is required to learn new information they are kinder to themselves and more likely to spend time studying. I developed a “brain training” program for my students as I learned more and more about how we learn at the organic level. I drew pictures of neurons on the board and showed students how neurotransmission works. This works well at the middle school and high school level but even younger students can learn the basics of one neuron “talking” to another one.

    6. Connect/Collaborate with other teachers. Teachers are sometimes too busy to connect with other teachers but if you can take even an hour at the end of the week to share ideas with teachers that you respect, this will help your teaching and theirs. You can share teaching strategies, collaborate on lessons, compare assessments, discuss classroom management, etc…(this is stress relieving as well when you find out that other teachers have similar challenges)

    7. Be brave and try your new ideas. Check with your principal first if what you are trying is something really unique. Here are a few of the things I tried that I ran past my principal first: Toad Races (measurement), Student Made Hot Air Balloons (Charles’ Law), Classroom-sized inflatable cell model (Plant and Animal Cells-Biology), Water Rockets (Newton’s Laws of Motion).

    8. If possible, get your students out of the classroom on a field study trip. The stimulation of getting out of the classroom and seeing/experiencing something new and interesting can go a long way in keeping student interest alive.

    9. Care about your students. This can be challenging with difficult students but when students know that you truly care about them, they will be in a better mindset for learning.

    10. In order to stay fresh, take care of you! Teaching is a very giving profession, in order to be able to give, give to yourself! This means that you should not feel guilty if you get a spa treatment, take a vacation or take a day off.

    11. Don’t try to be perfect. No matter how great your lesson plan is, stuff happens that is out of your control. Take a deep breath, carry on and enjoy the times when your lesson goes just as you hoped it would.

    12. Allow students to talk. Yes. They are social beings and need to talk. What’s important is what they are talking about. I do not mean off-task talking. I mean on-task talking. Some wonderful on-task talking strategies are:

      1. Quick partner shares of the new information recently learned

      2. Small group discussions of a perplexing and interesting questions about your topic

      3. Socratic Seminars

      4. Debates (This requires structure-loose debates do not do well). For a concrete debate lesson plan go to my Teachers Pay Teachers store:

Final Thought: In order to be the best teacher that you can be, focus on the joy of learning, take good care of yourself, don’t try to be perfect and have fun as often as possible. (For more Blog Posts go to Add comment View 8 other answers to this question

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