In response to the question ‘What makes good teaching?’, I have decided to focus on five characteristics and one skill. The needs of learners commonly differ between classes, because of this teaching practice often has to change to facilitate learning. However, I believe that a facilitator who is patient, empathetic, confident and compassionate can use these characteristics to construct a successful lesson, while the skill of room reading can be used to try and keep learners engaged in behaviour which should be conducive to learning.
Patience – This trait is valuable for teaching, as it allows the student to have the necessary space to come to the correct answer. While subject knowledge may be obvious to the teacher, this was not always the case, and it is worth us teachers remembering how long comprehension of a subject takes to build. What seems obvious only seems as such because of our built subject understanding, we need to be adaptable to the differing speeds students will work at and the extra help required by others.
Empathy – Being empathetic will allow the teacher to put themselves in the situation of the student. Our students are only human, empathising will enable us to gauge the moods of our students and to act accordingly. Furthermore, it will be easier to understand what our students find difficult if we can relate to them on a human level. Understanding the learners will help inform what activities will best engage them in behaviour conducive to learning.
Confidence – Possessing confidence, in my view, is the most important trait related to successful teaching. It is imperative that the student feels that the teacher is in control of the lesson and that their teacher is capable enough to guide them in understanding the correct learning objectives. Lacking confidence won’t inspire the trust needed from students, and will make them believe that the teacher isn’t up to the task. If students don’t believe that their teacher is capable, they will not engage with their lessons.
Compassion – I have included compassion as well as empathy, as I believe to empathise is to put oneself in another person’s situation, whilst compassion is to care for another person. The capacity to empathise is not the same as genuine care regarding how well our students do. While teaching, there are times that you are aware that the effectiveness of the class is sufficient, but not all students are engaging as readily as others. To put the effort into making sure all students are engaging equally, I believe you have to care about how well the students do. It is this care that prevents complacency and drives for perfection.
Room reading – Mostly a tacit, intuitive skill, being able to gauge how a classroom is responding to teaching is a vital component of successful teaching. If a lesson has begun and the students aren’t interested, then as a teacher you must be aware of this and change tactic or our behaviour accordingly. This is often referred to as reflection-in-action. Room reading also enables the facilitator to engage learners in passive behaviour, such as sitting and listening to a lecture. Being able to change the delivery or content of the lecture to heighten learner engagement, comes from understanding what the learners respond positively towards.
Patience, empathy, confidence, compassion and understanding are all complementary traits to successful teaching. That said, it is up to the teacher to understand their classroom dynamic and apply ‘Phronesis’ (practical wisdom) through the lens of acceptable professional standards. Though a useful list to reflect upon, much more is incorporated in a successful lesson. I believe a classroom can be seen as a test-tube, full of reactive, interacting elements. Through observation, perhaps we can hope to guide their constantly changing states into a unified and connected compound.