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How to be an Effective Teacher

by Bill Lauritzen

First of all, it's better to be effective than productive, as you could be producing lousy graduates. Next, it's best to focus on four things. I guarantee that if you do these four things, you will be very effective. I call these CWIZ.

C for make it concrete. Students get too much abstract knowledge. I sometimes define a teacher as "someone who explains things that are not present." (Except for a few lucky subjects like chemistry, where you can do laboratory experiments). Anything you can do to make the subject more concrete will help. Photos are better than text. Audio is better than text. Video is better than photos or audio. Something concrete is better than video. Example: the Battle of Gettysburg. You can read about it, you can see photos (or images) of it, you can listen to lectures of it, you can watch videos about it, but given unlimited resources the best thing is to recreate the Battle with actors (or better yet put the students IN the battle). Of course, with limited budgets, you have to improvise. Homo Sapiens did not evolve reading tiny words on a page, but rather looking at actions in the world. When I was teaching chemistry, I took my students in the lab a LOT.

W for words (or symbols). The MINIMUM requirement for a teacher and student should be to know all the words and symbols describing the activity or process. Not MEMORIZE them, but understand what they CONNECT to in the real world.

I for Interest. Either the student has to be interested in the subject or you have to create interest (or motivation). You can create some interest by doing C (making it concrete) above.

Z for zone. You have to teach the students in their zone. If you are teaching them above their level, they will feel overwhelmed. If you are teaching them below their level they will be bored. I once had a 10 grade high school math classes (a problem class in the inner city) that was at the 7th grade level. When I taught them at their level (it took me a few days of going lower and lower each day) they responded wonderfully. Another time I was assigned an algebra class, another problem class. Very difficult to teach. After the first test, I went to the head counselor with their test results and told her than the class should be a pre-algebra class, not algebra. To her credit she changed the class. After that the class moved along like a song. It was a pleasure to teach. Good luck.