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How To Be An Effective Classroom Teacher

I’ve been busy as shit preparing to teach my first college course. Technology has made it more interesting than back in the early 2000’s when I went to college.

In this post I’ve compiled a list of useful tips for anyone who wants to teach – not just in the classroom but in any setting.

I would love to see some of my healthcare professional readers creating online courses whether for their patients or for their colleagues. MOOC’s are a huge trend and are only going to get bigger.

Your Audience

Before commencing teaching it is critical to understand who your audience is.

  • Who will take the course you’re teaching?
  • What is their background?
  • What will they want to get out of your course?
  • What’s their personalities like?
  • What will they want to achieve with the information?

In my case these will be community college students and a few older individual who have enrolled in college to pursue an encore career.

It helps to know what other courses they have tried and what courses they are hoping to take next. This is the “market surveys” that many entrepreneurs rely on when designing their online courses.

In a physical classroom setting you can get to know your audience by trying to learn their names, their backgrounds, and their career aspirations.

Interacting With Students

Online courses tend to be a little sterile which is why many online educators also have live video interaction sessions. At the very least a discussion forum is helpful to have, especially right after a course is taught.

Bonding With The Audience

The old teaching methods of having a teacher at the front of the class lecturing down to the students seems to be one of the least effective ways to bond with students.

For all the obvious reasons why students may not want to interact during a class, we can help them bond with us as teachers and their peers by setting aside “right-wrong” scenarios and instead focusing on the learning process.

I will be teaching medical terminology which be a 4-hour class once a week and will go over every single medical specialty – it’s a lot of information to absorb and a lot of systems to understand. The memorization of the terms has to take place on the student’s own time but the more I can connect with the audience the better I can influence their learning.

Moving around the classroom instead of growing roots at the podium is a good way to engage the student.

Another is explaining a concept to a student and then having them teach it to the student next to them. The more ways a concept is taught and repeated the more learning will take place.

Be The Facilitator

Breaking the hierarchy of the omniscient professor and the dumb student is also helpful. Until I researched this post I didn’t appreciate how much less stressful this can be for the me as the professor.

It’s teamwork and I’m the facilitator – I don’t need to spoon-feed them the information nor am I responsible for them learning it. I’m responsible to help them figure out ways to learn a topic and improve their comprehension skills.

To achieve that I have to break the barriers between teacher-student.

Individualism

Pronouncing the students’ names properly, remembering something unique about them, and recognizing how they individually learn best compared to the student next to them are effective ways to engage a student.

Coming to class early and interacting with the students in a less formal manner and staying late to just talk about random course related or career related topics are other ways to decrease the tension which improves learning.

If you’re teaching on a Monday then ask the students about their weekend. If you’re teaching on a Friday then ask them about their upcoming plans. Bonus points if you can use one of the facts they give you to transition into your lecture.

1:1 Attention

It’s important for me to see each student as an individual rather than a consumer of my work. Teachers can see the student as a barrier to completing their job and earning a paycheck.

Have students make name tents so that you can recall their names. Tough to do with more than 30 students but otherwise a memorable personal touch.

Another good trick is to find ways to get a student to come to your office hours. This is an effective tool to engage the student and get them to ask questions which will help them overcome whatever learning barrier they have.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is even more important when there is a power dynamic. It’s common for the student to feel as though they don’t have a voice when the teacher is the one who controls the pace of the topic and sets the grade.

Positive reinforcements help engage students and allows them to feel more in control of the topic. Their wrong answers can be use to help them find their own way towards the right solution.

Utilizing Teaching Tools

Try to utilize mainstream news to relate it to your educational material. If you’re teaching about arts and a local painting sells for $10M then maybe talk about the significance of it.

This method is engaging because each student will have their own viewpoint and might even have something unique to add. It would be great to incorporate their idea into teaching the material.

Humor

Even if you’re not naturally funny, it’s helpful to be willing to laugh at yourself which breaks down the authority figure barrier.

Throwing up humorous slides or being light-hearted about complex topics are other ways of achieving this. Humor makes students more receptive because they will drop their guard which hopefully allows for better communication.

PowerPoints

As physicians most of us have had to give lectures using lecture media such as PowerPoint. This overly utilized piece of technology can be a crutch for poor teaching skills.

PowerPoint should ideally be used to provide a few words or images that frame the details of the topic. Placing each single fact on the PP will only distract students and divert their attention from the words coming out of your mouth.

Stories

Audiences love hearing stories whether real or made-up. These can engage all our senses and heighten our attention.

Before starting a lecture it’s great to start out with a case or a story to help illustrate the point and to then start lecturing the boring material that goes along with that.

Teaching Basics

Develop a warm-up routine where you shoot the shit with the students for a few minutes before jumping into the lecture material. The point of this is to help the students open up and be willing to engage and it makes their minds more receptive.

Tests/Quizzes

Increasing the frequency of tests and quizzes can be a good way for students to get a sense of how they are doing in the course so that they don’t get blindsided by midterms and finals.

“Self-tests” can be open book or extra-credit towards the final grade.

Weekly quizzes can be short and don’t always have to be graded.

Having students write out sample test questions is a good way for them to engage with the material especially if the subject is more conceptual.

When it comes to grading tests it’s helpful to be very clear about how you came up with their scores. This is where students can lose faith in the educational system if we aren’t transparent.

Online Tests

My college has a wonderful resource for their faculty in forms of a large test bank of questions which we can use to create our quizzes, midterms, and finals.

Online teaching platforms such as Brightspace make grading, teaching, and sharing of material even easier. This online application lets me create the quizzes, automatically grades them, and also reports the scores to each student.

Feedback

Continuous feedback is a helpful way for students to get a sense of how well they are doing. This should be communicated to the students who might be trailing behind, followed by helping them catch up.

This is the one part where a good teacher can shine – delving deep in order to identify the lack of performance. Maybe the student needs to be connected to tutoring resources or just needs help to come up with a good study plan for the tests.

Learning Styles Are Unique

Some students learn best reading, others writing, and yet others by hearing the material. Some need a combination of these methods in order to absorb the material.

It’s helpful to offer as many different teaching tools and techniques during one single session as possible. Provide guidance on how to take notes, encourage students to repeat concepts back to you, and help them build mnemonics.

Time Segmentation

A 1-hour lecture can be boring as shit – a 4-hour lecture is a nightmare. But there are ways to break this time apart into multiple segments.

From the section above, use a different teaching technique for each time slot. Don’t just spend 4 hours with a PowerPoint directed at your audience.

An example might be to start with a general overview of the topic and share all the boring details of the topic. For the next section come up with scenarios and cases to put the facts into practice. And finish by having a mock quiz session and have students compete for answers. Candy toss!

Energy

Sitting down in a chair with no control over the material that’s about to come at you will make most individuals zone out. The teacher can inject energy into the material by injecting energy into certain topics.

Material can also be presented in different ways to make it more interesting – use stories, show short clips, or act out a scene.

Using a lot of images is a great way to energize your PowerPoint.

Let your audience engage with you, laugh, start a conversation among themselves, and know how to tactfully bring their attention back to the course material.

Videotape Yourself

You can do this inconspicuously using your laptop camera or you can have a fellow faculty videotape you in order for you to get a sense of the energy you have as a teacher.

The next step is to show this to other professors whom you believe to be good at what they do.

Team Work

I will be teaching a class of less than 40 students which is a great opportunity to have my students break into 5-member teams and have them maintain that cohesive group for the rest of the semester.

In a group it’s common for students to develop friction. This is a brilliant teaching opportunity for them to learn how to work together despite these obstacles.

Group-learning will make life easier for a teacher because students will teach each other and they’ll identify gaps in your teaching methodology which can help you become a better teacher.

Networking

I wasn’t taught about networking or how to make effective friendships when growing up. Fortunately, despite this, I made some amazing friends in college whom I keep in touch with.

Encourage students to exchange emails and cell phones and help them manage their study groups. Bonus points if you can show up to one of their study sessions to help facilitate it.

The Teacher

You have to find your voice as a teacher just as you do when you’re a physician or a writer.

  • What’s going to be your unique style? (1:1, resources)
  • What can you bring that other teachers can’t? (creativity, efficiency, humor)
  • How can you get 1-step better each teaching session? (get feedback from students, record yourself, have other teachers observe you)
  • What are your weaknesses?

I already talked about letting go of the hierarchy of being the teacher in the classroom and fortunately you don’t need to be a subject expert – just an expert on teaching your material.

Teacher RESPONSIBILITIES

As a teacher I am responsible to help my students navigate towards their desired destination. I provide the information and help them absorb it using a method that’s unique to them.

Some students only want to pass your course. Others want to learn everything about it and others may want to get the highest grade possible in order to meet a prerequisite.

I am not the world-renowned expert on everything I teach – I am the best teacher teaching the material that my students came to absorb. I am the best resource they have to tell them exactly where to go for further reading and education.

Teacher Availability

Not every student might recognize that you care when you lecture. But every student will know you care if you go out of your way to be available to them.

Being a pedantic authority figure will do nothing for you nor your students. They may have missed your office hours but punishing them won’t help them learn.

Offer online discussion forums, offer up your college email, give them a cell phone number they can call, and meet with them outside of normal hours if that will help them improve.

Resources

We don’t have to experts in every single topic we teach but we can be incredibly effective by offering resources to our student audience.

I will be teaching on the topic of medical terminology and if there is a website which is really useful then I can direct my students there.

There might be YouTube videos which explain certain topics far better than I can with graphics and all. I can offer such information up to my students as a resource.

Teaching Ideas For Physicians

I already mentioned one business idea in a recent post on how to teach medical emergencies to dental offices.

With YouTube’s ad revenue model it wouldn’t be hard for a physician to create short videos to teach something to fellow physicians.

You can create online courses through websites such as Udemy where you charge per-course or you can host your own courses through a paid portal on your own websites.

Everyone has something to teach to others. The more passionate your are about a topic the more likely it is that it will be a successful profit model.

If you’re an orthopedist then you can make 12 videos on how to perform a joint corticosteroid injection. You can make videos on proper joint aspiration. These can be fantastic resources for physicians who are transitioning into Primary Care or into Urgent Care and need such refreshers.

If you’re a dermatologist, then you can show Primary Care doctors how to use a dermatoscope, which is highly underutilized in the Primary Care setting.

If you’re pharmacist then you can provide a website where you teach patients how to taper off of medications such as corticosteroids, SSRI’s, oxymetazoline, NSAIDs for migraine patients, and ACE-I for hypertensive patients.

If you’re a Physician Assistant then you can have a series of videos where you teach students about the PA application process. You can charge extra to review their personal statements and do 1:1 coaching.

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