Five Unexpected Places You Can Learn To Be a Better Teacher

Messy Teacher Desk

Professional development isn’t the only place where you can develop professionally. If you’re paying attention, the elements of good instruction can be found in many experiences that are already a part of your life. The real-life situations below might improve your teaching more than that session in the auditorium. And they don’t involve a single PowerPoint slide.

What you can learn about teaching from watching standup-comedy

If you ever attend an amateur comedy contest, you’ll notice that beginning comics face some of the same behavior issues that pop up in your classroom. Sure, the audience members are adults, but they’ve been drinking, and drunk people can be a lot like kids: They have short attention spans. They don’t always realize how loud they’re talking. And sometimes… you have to walk them to the bathroom. (Thanks. I’ll be here all week.) As with teaching, experienced comics can make “owning the room” look easy. That’s because they’ve had years to practice fundamental skills like timing and body language. They’ve also developed seemingly-spontaneous responses for the guy yelling, “I already heard that one!” from the back of the room. Just remember that every top comedian was a beginner once. So was every master teacher.

What you can learn about classroom teaching from attending a workout class

Group exercise classes can teach us a lot about motivation. After all, how often do you see people doing Zumba or boot camp moves on their own? If you attend workout classes you like, watch what the instructors do to keep everyone focused. How do they raise the energy level? How do they keep exercisers from slacking during a workout? How do they keep you from skipping class? Answering these questions lets you build teaching skills while you’re building muscle tone. (You overachiever, you!) Another thing workouts teach us is that motivators vary from person to person. If you prefer to work out solo, or if you only hit the gym during New Year’s resolution week, you’ve got a new way to empathize with the introverted or reluctant students in your classroom.

What you can learn about teaching from shopping at a well-planned store

Every time we walk into Target, we (okay, I) feel compelled to buy at least one pair of pajama pants. And a funny t-shirt. And hey, maybe some gummy worms from the checkout line. This is no coincidence. Stores purposely place impulse-buy items within easy reach of customers. Your classroom layout can also work in your favor if you think about what you’d like students to grab easily as they walk in, what you’d like them to see when their eyes wander toward the clock, and how they can access your file folders or classroom library without bumping into one another.

What you can learn about teaching from taking a flight

In my speeches at new teacher orientations, I often compare the first day of school to running an airport. If there is one place where crowd control is even more crucial than at school, it’s at the airport. Everyone who walks into an airport must follow every procedure, every time. No one explains why we have to take off our shoes or remove your laptop from its case; they just repeat the directions. We cooperate because deep down, we want airport security to be able to do its job. The same goes for your classroom. Your students—most of them, anyway—want you to be able to teach. Thus, you have every right to demand that the aisles are clear, electronics are stowed, and everyone is seated in an upright position.

What you can learn about teaching from assembling furniture

Creating a finished product can be a source of satisfaction – or frustration. As with furniture assembly, the more visual, well ordered, and clear the directions are, the more likely the experience is to be a positive one. If students seem confused the first time you give directions, walk through the steps in more detail. Demonstrate. Draw examples on the board. Have the students who get it help their neighbors. The activity may take more time than you planned, but at least it will keep students from feeling the way you feel when that new bookcase ends up with one backward shelf.

Once you start to look for hidden lessons, you’ll find them in the places you least expect. And who knows? If you’re listening hard enough, maybe you’ll even learn something from that PowerPoint presentation in the auditorium.

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