2011-11-04

Main principles of teaching

The new academic year started this week after the four-month summer vacation. Partly because I participate in some courses by other teachers this year, I have realized that the way I teach is very different from the way they and probably many other teachers in Israel teach. I am still in search of the best teaching method. But the following is the list of the three main principles of teaching I have established for myself after years of trial and error.

  1. Know who and what your students are and interact with them. The very first thing I do in the first lesson of any course is to ask all the students to introduce themselves briefly, and when they do, I also ask them spontaneously about things that seem relevant to the topics of the course in question, such as their knowledge of foreign languages. I also try very hard to memorize the names of all the students as soon as possible. And I interact with them all the time, asking them questions, both literally and rhetorically.
  2. Prepare a handout of each lesson in advance. I always prepare a handout of each lesson and email it to all the students in advance. The main reason for doing this is to enable them to concentrate on the content and have more time to think critically about it without spending too much time just writing down what I say only orally. I also try to make a handout in such a way that will enable them to reconstruct each lesson later. But I have come to realize that with some students I do not share the same sense of order. Even in Japan, which is famous for its order, I was always considered very (or too) ordered, but here in Israel, some students write in their evaluation of my teaching that I am not ordered. So there must be a fundamental cultural (and/or individual) difference between my and their sense of order.
  3. Use humor. I tell my students jokes constantly in class. They can be either spontaneous or ready-made ones, but they are related to the content of what is being studied. My sense of humor is heavily influenced by Yiddish humor, which is characterized, among others, by cynicism and sarcasm. Unfortunately, however, Yiddish humor does not seem to be shared or cherished by everyone in Israel, including some of my students. I may be wrong, but some may even think that teachers should be serious all the time. But as far as I am concerned, I find it very difficult to interact with people with no sense of humor, especially if they are my teachers. Actually, some of my best teachers had a very sophisticated sense of humor. I also believe that the use of humor in class has a pedagogic benefit.

Unfortunately, some of my students seem to be perplexed, for better or for worse, by the way I teach, and in extreme cases seem to dislike it as there do not seem to be many teachers in Israel who follow all these principles.