Over the decades, I have codified my approach to good teaching into eleven “pretty good rules.” They are:
1. There is absolutely no substitute for subject matter expertise, excellent preparation, and contagious enthusiasm. None.
2. You must like children and young adults. Do not go into education if kids are going to be the enemy.
3. You must believe deep in your heart that every student can learn. It is the job of the teacher to find ways for every student to experience some success. While all students are not equal academically, they deserve equal opportunity and access to an education.
4. Self esteem cannot be conferred. Students need to earn their grades and be proud of their accomplishments. Good teachers find ways for students to be successful beyond paper and pencil assessment.
5. A teacher must come to class prepared every day. Students can immediately sense if the teacher doesn’t know what he or she is doing. It can be like sharks to blood. Do not voluntarily be a part of the lower food chain.
6. The best classroom management/discipline plan is a good lesson plan.
7. Be fair, firm, and friendly. A teacher does not have to be a buddy, though. A pleasant, non-confrontational atmosphere is often very conducive to learning, but being liked is not necessary for me to discharge the duties to which I have been assigned. I must admit that I function better when my class is a friendly, safe, and happy place. I assume the students learn better when it is that way, too.
8. Remember that the class and subject you teach may not be the most important thing in your student’s life on a particular day. Keep things in rational perspective. Your demonstration of concern and kindness to that child may be the only positive reinforcement they get. It never hurts to smile on purpose.
9. I want students to look forward to my class each day, even if we are learning dreadfully unexciting stuff. My classroom should be safe and inviting. It should be cool to come to class.
10. Don’t take yourself too seriously. I have discovered, over the years, that my philosophy of teaching is “to stay one step ahead of the men in the white coats.” I believe it is important for students to see you as a real person, not merely a sage on the stage. It is important for you to be as human and humane as you can be to your students. Always ask yourself at the end of the day: “Would I have wanted to spend and entire class period with me?”
11. Teaching is all about making connections with other human beings. We are not just information dispensers and test preparation technicians. We should be professionals. We ARE teachers.
I have never regretted for a moment choosing teaching as my life‘s work. Although teachers almost always have lingering concerns about personal finances, every so often you are reminded why you went into this crazy profession. The other day, at Easter brunch, the waitress said, “Which of you is Mr. Hansen?” I instantly thought, “Oh gosh, what have I done now?” I could envision my car being towed away by Zebo’s Crush It N Bury It Towing Service. Instead, she said a man in the restaurant wanted you to know that you were the best teacher he ever had. Slightly embarrassed, I said “thank you” and mentally cashed one of those million dollar teacher checks one sometimes receives. It’s still a great profession.
-Del Hansen was a teacher and administrator for over thirty years, teaching math and physics to high school aged students. He is now retired and living in Las Cruces, New Mexico.