Kevin’s Maxims for Teachers

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.

General Maxims:

  1. 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.
  2. Know your students.
  3. No child can do her best work if she is anxious or feeling unsafe.
  4. What students bring to the classroom of their own experience and their family’s experience is the ground out of which learning grows.
  5. 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.
  6. Demonstrate genuine knowledge, passion, and curiosity about your subject. If you aren’t curious and interested, why should your students be?
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Never humiliate or make fun of a child.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Breathe.

Learn more about GDS’s educational philosophy »

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