From my own experiences working with children and watching other people teach, I’ve noticed that good educators share many common attributes. (Aside: when I say “educators”, I really mean parents, schoolteachers, and indeed anyone who needs to impart knowledge to another person.)
What’s interesting is that almost anyone can acquire these attributes if they put their mind to it — teaching doesn’t really require any “special skills” that are beyond the reach of the average person. Of course, if you want to teach a subject at the highest levels, it helps if you’re a specialist in the area, but in general a simple willingness to learn on the teacher’s part is surprisingly effective.
Anyway, here are ten things — not in any particular order — that I think all good educators ought to aim for:
- KNOW THE CHILD: You can only teach well if you have a good understanding of the person you’re teaching. At the very least, you should know about the child’s interests and his personality traits. Try to relate to and empathise with the child as best you can.Of course, a lot of this knowledge can and will be obtained while you’re teaching. Once you have a good understanding of the child, you can adjust your teaching style to “perfectly match” the child’s style of learning.
- GOOD COMMUNICATION: You should know how to communicate with the child “at the right level” so he can understand you easily. Try to sound like you’re interested in and excited by whatever you’re teaching, and don’t speak in a monotone!Effective communication is two-way: encourage the child to express his own thoughts and ideas, and try to adjust/improve your teaching based on the feedback he gives you. Don’t forget the importance of nonverbal communication — it’s usually easy to tell from a child’s body language whether or not he’s interested in what you’re teaching him.
- MUTUAL RESPECT: It’s impossible to teach someone who doesn’t take you seriously! You should try to earn the respect of the child, while at the same time being considerate of his needs and wants. Aim to strike a good rapport with the person you’re teaching.
- PATIENCE: At times, teaching can feel like an immensely frustrating experience, and there will often be occasions when the child doesn’t seem to be learning anything or is even moving backwards.This is where patience comes in handy; you just have to keep trying until things start moving in the right direction again. However, this doesn’t mean you should persist with a style of teaching that clearly isn’t working; it’s important to be flexible!
- A SENSE OF FUN: Lots of people think that learning has to be a chore and a bore, but children tend to learn (and retain what they have learnt) much better if they actually enjoy what they are doing. With a bit of imagination, it’s possible to make even the most mundane learning tasks seem interesting to a child.As children grow older, they gradually start to understand the importance of their studies more, and so you don’t have to put quite as much effort into making their work fun for them. Still, it’s always good to have a sense of humour when teaching older children, and you should try to make things interesting whenever possible, especially if it seems like the person you’re teaching is growing bored.
- ENJOY LEARNING YOURSELF: There’s nothing worse than a teacher teaching a subject that he doesn’t actually like. More generally, we can’t expect children to enjoy learning if we ourselves have no interest in learning!If you do enjoy learning, you can set a good example for the child by, for example, showing him that you’re curious about the world, always trying to learn new things, figuring out how to solve interesting problems, and so on. Most importantly, try to make it clear that learning is a way of life, and doesn’t begin and end in the classroom.
- JUST DO IT: It’s fairly commonplace for people to think that they are incapable of teaching, or that the child is incapable of learning a subject. Frankly, this is a terrible attitude to have! Avoid making assumptions about what you can and can’t teach, or what the child can and can’t learn.Instead, just tell yourself “Okay, this is what I’d like to teach, and now let’s see if I can find a way to help the kid learn this stuff.” It might take time, but you probably will find a way eventually, and you certainly have a better chance than if you don’t even try to teach him!
- BE RESOURCEFUL: Teaching is a whole lot easier when you don’t have to come up with everything yourself. Knowing how to extract useful information from books, the Internet, and other knowledgeable people is an incredibly useful skill to have, and if you look in the right places it doesn’t even have to cost much money.Try to be on the lookout for things that might help you with your teaching; for instance, you could put common household items to good use, or try to learn from another teacher if you see him using a teaching technique that seems like it might be handy.
- KNOW THE SUBJECT: Obviously, it helps if you have a good understanding of the subject you want to teach, but you can still do a reasonable job even if you’re not an expert. You just have to be willing to learn a few new things yourself.There are two ways you can do this: you can either spend a bit of your own time learning about the subject, or you can learn with the child. I prefer the latter, and not just because it takes less time! Learning with the child lets him see the process of learning (which is often messy and unrefined) as well as the end result, and it’s usually more interesting for a child to learn collaboratively with another person instead of just being told what to do.
- FLEXIBILITY: Sticking rigidly to a single method of teaching is usually a bad idea. Be flexible in the way that you teach; every child learns in a different way, and their learning habits also evolve over time. What works with one child won’t necessarily work with another, and you should be willing to change the way you teach if it isn’t working as well as you’d like.Personally, I like to have an array of techniques at my disposal, and I use different methods based on my knowledge of the child and what he’s learning. It’s also important to be open to new ways of teaching, because even if you’re already doing a very good job, you can always improve even further!