Always keep it interesting

Six ways to keep students interested:

One of my younger sisters doesn’t really share my passion for reading and writing. To her, I might as well speak Greek when I’m discussing words or literature or most of my favorite things. Love each other as we do, there are times when we have such few similarities that we question whether or not we’re actually related. That being said, she recently posted on my Facebook wall the following quote:

“Essays are like skirts–long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting.”

How great is that?! Of course, being the English nerd that I am, I immediately asked her to cite her source and tried Googling it when she didn’t. Apparently, it’s quite the common saying, because I couldn’t find the origin. Thanks Google–your overwhelming database of useless knowledge has proved useless to me once again.

I think the part about this quote that both pleased and disturbed me the most was the latter half. It disturbed me mostly because I often think of my sister as if she is still 10 years old and don’t want her thinking of why short skirts are interesting. But on the other hand, this part of the quote pleased me because, well it’s awesome and it leads me to a few questions: 1.Why hadn’t any teacher said this to me before? It would have become my motto. 2. Then again, when is this an appropriate message to use? I would love to use this with my students, but I know some of their parents would disapprove. And 3. If I did use it with my students, how many of them would actually get it and how many would just giggle or give me blank looks? Now stay with me, because this leads me to my ultimate question:

How do we keep it interesting?

As a teacher I constantly try to remain enthusiastic and a step ahead of what other teachers are doing. I look up new strategies, pay attention to what others do, research fun activities, and try to think outside the box–all because I enjoy learning and want my students to enjoy it as well.  Of course there are lots of ways that I think would be cool to present or apply information and skills, but there are always obsticals (check out the Banned Books on ALA if you don’t believe me). So how do we work around those and make learning cool? I don’t necessarily have the right answers, but I have my theories and I’m always open for suggestions.  So here it goes. This is how I like to keep my students interested (without wearing a short skirt):

1. Get excited

As cliche as it may sound, I’ve found that enthusiasm is contagious. Some of my most memorable and favorite teachers were so because of their enthusiasm and passion for what they were teaching. It didn’t always matter whether I actually liked the subject or not; their enthusiasm made me want to know more about what they were teaching.

2. Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself

Many students are reluctant to look foolish or actively participate in front of other students. They need someone else to be foolish before they are comfortable doing so. This kind of goes with the first one, but I am never ashamed to share a dorky joke or corny pun with my students. I may think it’s hilarious and they may think it’s the worst joke they’ve ever heard. But they’ll laugh at me (or with me depending on how full your glass is) and it’s amazing what a little laughter can do.

3. Make it relevant

Ideally, those who teach love what they teach, or they at least know the subject really well. Unfortunately, because of this, it’s easy to forget that this subject can be hard. And I promise students will easily lose patience with you if you assume that everything you teach should already be known or learned easily. One way to fix this is to make whatever you’re teaching relevant to your students, their world, and their interests. Teaching interviewing skills? Use John Stewart. Teaching tone and language? Use David Sedaris. Teaching Grammar? Make them rap it out.

4. Keep it fresh

It’s a well known fact that teachers are overworked and under-payed. Most of us who go into teaching know that some of our payment will have to come simply from the reward of teaching. And because of the amount of time versus the amount of pay, it’s easy to make lesson plans and stick with them for years. Mix it up. Try something different every couple of classes. Unless it is the most incredible lesson of all time, when you become super comfortable teaching it, it often happens that you become less enthusiastic about it. Keep it fresh for both your sake and your students’.

5. Don’t be overly critical, but still have high standards

There is a school of thought that will tell you not to tell your students “no.” I don’t necessarily agree with this. Sometimes, students are just wrong, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be discouraging in your response. You don’t necessarily need to make their papers bleed, but don’t be afraid to comment. Balance is key.

6. Smile. It confuses them. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Always keep it interesting

  1. “Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself”… I still run into former chem students who yell “BOOM!” at me… Apparently I used to get pretty excited during my class demos. 😉

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