In one of his more acerbic songs, John Lennon offered the following riposte to his former songwriting partner Paul McCartney, “The sound you make is muzak to my ears / You must’ve learned something in all those years.” Lennon’s assumption was that anyone spending time with a genius (that would be Mr. Lennon) would have had to learn something. It is in that spirit that I offer up the various maxims about teaching I have coined, borrowed, or imagined over the 42 years I have spent teaching and learning at GDS.
- Gladys Stern, our third head of school, used to say, “Students will remember far more about your character than they will anything about a character in a book you tried to teach them.” If you want your students to be gentle, flexible, well-mannered, orderly, disciplined, and prompt, be that way yourself. What you actually do is what the students respond to, not what you say or what you think you do.
- Know your students.
- No child can do her best work if she is anxious or feeling unsafe.
- What students bring to the classroom of their own experience and their family’s experience is the ground out of which learning grows.
- Humor is vital. It greases the wheel of a classroom. Sarcasm, however, should be avoided at all costs. The younger the students, the more likely one of them will slip through the gap between your statement and your intended meaning.
- Demonstrate genuine knowledge, passion, and curiosity about your subject. If you aren’t curious and interested, why should your students be?
- Never let school or a prepared lesson get in the way of a student’s education. No rule says that all your students have to be doing the same thing at the same time. Build on their interests, not yours.
- Good teaching is an art as much as a science. At a minimum, it requires that you have three parts of your mind operating at all times: an observing mind, an organizing mind, and an engaged mind.
- Even in a GDS classroom, you will have a range of learners. Each child needs something different to excel and flourish. Get into the water with the kid; don’t stand on the shore and expect the kid to swim to you.
- Self-discipline and self-control are more useful in the long-run than external controls. Self-discipline comes from a feeling of belonging, from a belief that what one is doing matters, and that one’s contributions are valued.
- Except for GDS’s High School English teacher John Burghardt, no one is universally knowledgeable. An agile mind, a reasonable storehouse of knowledge, respect for your students’ capacities, and a willingness to learn with your students should suffice.
- Never humiliate or make fun of a child.
- Your subject is a door to the larger world that you open and invite a child to step through; the door, the child, and the world matter far more than the subject itself.
- Never get into a face-off with a student, especially in front of other kids. While you may want to win the argument, the student has to win, and will.
- Unless you are teaching a course on film, don’t depend on films to teach your class. Kids think it’s a sign of a lazy teacher, because it is.