By Emily Lockhart '04; Revised by Aaron Stewart '09
Imagine you are in a dimly-lit classroom where all of the walls are white. It’s a bit boring, isn’t it? Now, try and imagine sitting in said classroom and trying to pay attention to your teacher when they’re speaking in a monotone voice and pointing at a Powerpoint—chances are good that you’ll catch up on the sleep you didn’t get the night before. This is one of the reasons training in the field of education is so important. Teaching is so much more than standing up in front of a group of students and talking long enough to fill the time required for the class. The students in today’s classroom need to be engaged, forced to think and do more than jot down a couple of notes on a sheet of paper. This means that lessons have to be planned well ahead of class time so that the students will get all of the benefits out of the lesson. This means working on how you present yourself—are you going to be one of those boring teachers that follow the textbook word for word, or are you going to add variety and “spice things up,” as the saying goes? Above all, keeping students engaged means having fun while you’re teaching—if the students don’t believe you enjoy the subject you’re presenting them, you can’t expect them to enjoy it in your place.
“The love of a certain subject area isn’t enough to make a successful teacher. You also need to love helping others and the ability to instruct and share information. A career in education has a slightly different focus now than it had in the past—hands-on learning and using that knowledge in the real world” (Camenson 113-114).
Blythe Camenson says it all. The most important skill that a teacher can have in their classroom is the love of helping others. After all, what good comes out of educating someone without wanting that person to succeed in what they do? It’s not always easy to help people, but with a lot of patience and a sincere effort to do what’s right for the student, the rewards are just as great for the teacher as they are for the person being taught. For those interested in English Education in particular, John Bushman et al states that “the classroom is also a time to present students with literature that will give a range of physical, intellectual, and moral experiences that students may deal with in the future, as well as helping their reading development” (1). Creating students that want to read, write and think is the goal of the classroom and a teacher who wants to meet those goals is extremely valuable.
It’s also important that you feel comfortable talking for long periods of time in front of others. If you can’t deliver your point effectively to the students, they aren’t going to learn the material and they will be left confused and frustrated. You need to remember that, just because you know the information already and feel it’s easy to understand, it doesn’t mean that your students know it as well—for all that you know, they may have never been introduced to the information in the first place. Speak clearly and don’t forget vital details.
Important information leads into the next crucial skill: organization. According to Julie DeGalan, et al, “You must also be able to set up a course schedule that works to ensure that the students learn the necessary material, which is sometimes controlled by state educational goals (146).” The government strictly regulates the material that students need to learn—failing to teach them that material effectively is out of the question. It seems like a lot of pressure, doesn’t it? In reality, it isn’t that difficult at all if you learn to prepare and organize all of your lessons. You’re less likely to forget the details if they are already planned ahead of time. This means that a thorough lesson plan needs to be drafted well before the class begins, so that you can teach the material effectively and feel comfortable doing it. Improvisation is great in some aspects of teaching, but the structure of lessons is not one of those aspects.
On the other hand, improvisation does have its benefits. As Jan Goldberg mentions, “You also need to have both patience and creativity to keep your students attentive” (Goldberg 130). Have you ever seen the movie Dead Poet’s Society? In the movie, it was believed that a very strict environment was ideal for learning. Teachers were told how to teach and to never deviate from tradition. It was also based on a true story. The movie serves as an example because the classroom environment of today is simply not directed in the same way. Your students are not going to want to learn if you always follow the same routine. It’s okay to experiment with the way you put your lessons together—the worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work the way you wanted it to and you know not to use that method again. Be creative!
Qualifications and Training
“To teach in a public school, all teachers are required to be licensed for the state in which they teach” (Goldberg 128). Just like doctors, psychologists, lawyers and other professionals who focus on the physical, mental and intellectual health of individuals, the government does not want inept teachers to be put in charge of the students’ well-being—it could equal disaster for their futures. This means that you must meet certain guidelines before receiving your license to teach. In Ohio, you must receive your college training in Education from an approved program like the one here at Heidelberg University. Our program has core requirements in Education as well as requirements that are similar to those for an English major. You must also take three courses in Communication and Theatre Arts (CTA), since speaking in front of an audience comfortably is so important. Finally, you need to take and pass a test known as the Praxis II, which is composed of basic principles of learning and teaching, as well as an English content quiz.
Education at Heidelberg
Heidelberg University is well know for its Education programs and many students who matriculate here major in that area. For English Education majors, Dr. Diane Armstrong (former chair and professor of Education and now the director of the Masters in Education program) developed a four-year plan for the Integrated Language Arts program that allows Education majors to graduate in four years with the exception of one class. This class can be taken with over-hours or as a summer class. The program will also make it possible to receive a double major in English literature and Education (Armstrong interview 17 Nov. 2003). This provides more flexibility for Heidelberg Education majors than you may get at other institutions.
Our English program is also very strong. We have a well-qualified staff as well as a wide variety of courses, from “Computer-Mediated Communication” to “Literary Theory” to “Advanced Poetry/Fiction,” as well as several literature courses. The Communications and Theater Arts (CTA) programs here at Heidelberg will also help you succeed as a teacher with many classes focused on making you a better speaker.
Outside of classes, we have many organizations that you could get involved in, as well. It might be a good idea to work for WHEI, the campus radio station, or you could join the school’s debate team, which has proven itself successful in recent years. Becoming involved with the Student Senate, Berg Events Council (BEC), or even the school newspaper (The Kilikilik) or the yearbook (Aurora) can help you gain essential leadership skills that could help in the classroom.
- Armstrong, Dr. Diane. Personal interview 17 November 2003.
- Bushman, John H. and Kay Parks Haas. Using Young Adult Literature in the Classroom. New Jersey: Pearson, 2006.
- Camenson, Blythe. Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors. Chicago: VGM Career Books, 2002.
- DeGalan, Julie, and Stephen Lambert. Great Jobs for English Majors. Chicago: VGM Career Horizons, 2000.
- Goldberg, Jan. Jobs for Persuasive Types & Others Who Won’t Take No for an Answer. Chicago: VGM Career Horizons, 2000.
For information on the Praxis II test, study guides, and suggestions, it would be helpful to visit their website www.ets.org/praxis. For information on job availability, salary, and other important details for those interested in teaching, the Occupational Outlook Handbook has everything you need. Either look for a recent copy of their book at your local library or visit their site, www.bls.gov/oco. For information on Ohio’s educational guidelines, as well as job availabilities within the state, you can look on the Department of Education’s website at www.ode.state.oh.us.