Feature: Fireworks in the Classroom

Fireworks in the Classroom

Jimmy Teo Hui Thian (jteo@oum.edu.my)

Is passion the magic ingredient in the making of a good teacher? Can passion alone sustain a person to continue teaching? Will the fire in you spark off other fires in your classroom? These are some of the questions that popped up in my mind when asked if passion makes a good teacher.

This reminds me of an article I read several years ago in The Teaching Professor. The article, which I would like to share, was written by Professor Richard Leblanc of York University, Ontario after he won the Seymous Schulich Award for Teaching Excellence in 1998.

Good Teaching: The Top Ten Requirements

One. Good teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason. It's about not only motivating students to learn, but teaching them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful, and memorable. It's about caring for your craft, having a passion for it, and conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to your students.

Two. Good teaching is about substance andtreating students as consumers of knowledge. It's about doing your best to keep on top of your field, reading sources, inside and outside of your areas of expertise, and being at the leading edge as often as possible. But knowledge is not confined to scholarly journals. Good teaching is also about bridging the gap between theory and practice. It's about leaving the ivory tower and immersing oneself in the field, talking to, consulting with, and assisting practitioners, and liaising with their communities.

Three. Good teaching is about listening, questioning, being responsive, and remembering that each student and class is different. It's about eliciting responses and developing the oral communication skills of the quiet students. It's about pushing students to excel; at the same time, it's about being human, respecting others, and being professional at all times.

Four. Good teaching is about not always having a fixed agenda and being rigid, but being flexible, fluid, experimenting, and having the confidence to react and adjust to changing circumstances. It's about getting only 10 percent of what you wanted to do in a class done and still feeling good. It's about deviating from the course syllabus or lecture schedule easily when there is more and better learning elsewhere. Good teaching is about the creative balance between being an authoritarian dictator on the one hand and a pushover on the other.

Five. Good teaching is also about style. Should good teaching be entertaining? You bet! Does this mean that it lacks in substance? Not a chance! Effective teaching is not about being locked with both hands glued to a podium or having your eyes fixated on a slide projector while you drone on. Good teachers work the room and every student in it. They realise that they are the conductors and the class is the orchestra. All students play different instruments and at varying proficiencies.

Six. This is very important - good teaching is about humour. It's about being self-deprecating and not taking yourself too seriously. It's often about making innocuous jokes, mostly at your own expense, so that the ice breaks and students learn in a more relaxed atmosphere where you, like them, are human with your own share of faults and shortcomings.

Seven. Good teaching is about caring, nurturing, and developing minds and talents. It's about devoting time, often invisible, to every student. It's also about the thankless hours of grading, designing or redesigning courses, and preparing materials to still further enhance instruction.

Eight. Good teaching is supported by strong and visionary leadership, and very tangible institutional support - resources, personnel, and funds. Good teaching is continually reinforced by an overarching vision that transcends the entire organization - from full professors to part-time instructors - and is reflected in what is said, but more importantly by what is done.

Nine. Good teaching is about mentoring between senior and junior faculty, teamwork, and being recognised and promoted by one's peers. Effective teaching should also be rewarded, and poor teaching needs to be remedied through training and development programmes.

Ten. At the end of the day, good teaching is about having fun, experiencing pleasure and intrinsic rewards... like locking eyes with a student in the back row and seeing the synapses and neurons connecting, thoughts being formed, the person becoming better, and a smile cracking across a face as learning all of a sudden happens. Good teachers practice their craft not for the money or because they have to, but because they truly enjoy it and because they want to. Good teachers couldn't imagine doing anything else.

*Leblanc, Richard, "Good Teaching: The Top Ten Requirements," The Teaching Professor (June-July 1998), 1,7 and reprinted in Insight: Advanced Learning Through Faculty Study, newsletter of the Teaching Excellence Centre, Rutgers University, Camden Campus (Fall 1998); The Point, newsletter of United Faculty of PBCC, (November 1998); Briarcliffe College Faculty Newsletter, Briarcliffe College, Bethpage, NY (January-February 1999); and Focus on Teaching, Newsletter of Buffalo State University of New York (Spring 1999).

*Jimmy Teo is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Education and Languages

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