On teaching

Students are one of the most ungrateful people in the world. Or are they? I’ve been on both sides of the barricade, mostly on the student side.

There have always been professors who could handle our tough class. Whether in elementary school or in high school I’ve witnessed teachers breaking down, crying and once even leaving the school for good. Teaching requires guts, leadership and huge amount of patience.

On one side you have students shouting that your stuff is boring and useless, on the other is a principal shaking head, turning down the syllabus change offer. How can one find a way out of this mess?

My history teacher somehow discovered my passion for WWII and since she had never liked it, she asked me if I would like to teach instead of her. Sure thing! Here are my observations:

  • Students usually prefer battles in great detail rather than politics
  • Students who stumbled upon few more information about politics, prefer politics
  • Details and stories about specific soldiers is what gets stuck in their heads
  • Releasing notes and motivating students to listen rather than writing them themselves works
  • Throw hard facts in the ring – who knew that Britain & France seriously thought about intervening in Russian-Finnish war on Finnish side? Entire modern history would have been completely different

As for my observations from student position:

  • If possible, go from practical example to theory. Getting through articles of General agreement on trades & tariffs is boring! Reverse it: USA – EU banana war. What happened, why. This neatly leads us to GATT and its rule A, B and C.
  • Read to lead. One smartass in class can destroy any authority you possess.
  • Keep up the dynamics.
  • Simple questions make students hesitate answering – no one wants to be seen as “wannabe smart” answering whether planning is important for company or not. If answer is obvious, don’t ask.
  • If possible, start with contemporary stuff. Quite why is HTML still important and why do we learn about Stone Age before modern history is a mystery. As John Graham puts it:
    “A boy’s education should begin with today, deal a little with tomorrow and then go back to before yesterday. But when a fellow begins with the past, it’s apt to take him too long to catch up to the present.”

Teachers are leaders, role models, gatekeepers. Their words and their decisions may decide fate of kids. Teachers deserve our utmost respect. It is not easy to be good in this game, and many failed. To those who made a positive impact on young people, we owe our deepest gratitude. Because these young people will be deciding fate of our world. I love this comic from Zen Pencils, which sums it nicely.

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About Petr Klíma