As a former adjunct professor and subject matter expert at Georgetown University, James Feldkamp knows that there is no such thing as a perfect teacher.
But as Feldkamp knows, a good teacher is one who constantly strives to improve and never takes their position or their responsibilities for granted.
That said, Jim offers a few tips for becoming a better teacher – simple but profound ways to adjust your approach and re-energize your daily classroom routine.
Take Time to Reflect
Unfortunately, many educators across the U.S. and around the world are overworked and underpaid. And with the student-to-teacher ratio rising dramatically over the past few decades, teachers have more work than ever – and with very little support or help to tackle that bigger workload.
But no matter how busy your teaching schedule is, James Feldkamp recommends setting aside time to reflect, at least on a regular basis.
Journaling and making lists are tools that can make reflection a little easier. Take a moment to jot down your weaknesses, areas for improvement, lessons that connected/failed, and what contributed to that outcome.
Seeing your thoughts in writing can help you better analyze these elements and organize future lesson plans based on past experiences.
Ask Students for Feedback
Depending on the age group you serve, asking your students for feedback on assignments, projects and your overall teaching style can be quite helpful, particularly in your efforts to improve as an educator.
There will always be students who love and hate your class, and how they feel about and critique your approach is generally out of your control.
But as Jim Feldkamp knows, student feedback can be quite helpful for identifying patterns and repetition in your teaching style and making adjustments and improvements down the road.
For instance, if you find that multiple students have trouble following your lecturing style, it may be time to adjust your delivery – or to make more room for follow-up discussion and questions afterward.
Watch Your Class Averages
As James Feldkamp knows, administrators tend to hate surprises. This makes it essential to avoid any unexpected news or issues down the line, particularly in the areas of grade and test performance.
Take care to monitor student averages as much as possible. If you notice the beginnings of a downward trend, dig into the matter as soon as you can.
Asking questions like “Was a certain assignment too difficult for the average level of knowledge?” and “Were the questions on the last test difficult to understand?” may help identify potential causes and tackle those issues before they catch you and school leadership unprepared.
Set Clear Goals
Professional improvement, as Feldkamp knows, is only possible when you have clear goals in mind.
To that end, it’s not enough to say “I want to be a better teacher,” a rather ambiguous, open-ended objective. Instead, setting goals means sitting down and carving out clear, precise benchmarks you want to achieve.
You may also identify the traits of colleagues and educators you admire. Ask yourself what makes them successful or admirable, and what traits do they possess that makes them such an effective teacher.
Write down those attributes and specific goals you’d like to hit at the end of the month, semester and school year. Create clear targets you’d like to hit and develop strategies that empower your success.
Note: The more specific your goals are, the more likely it is you can reach accomplish in a realistic fashion.
Don’t Let Bad Days Define You
Like everyone else, teachers are only human. And as Jim Feldkamp understands, every teacher has a bad day from time to time.
The important thing is to not only to not let bad days become the norm, but to use them as teachable moments – opportunities that inform your experience and help you mitigate mistakes in the future.
Rather than let the bad moments take over, find ways to show your students the value of transparency and accountability. Accept blame when something goes wrong, offer constructive criticism over retribution, and acknowledge accomplishments whenever possible.
Understand that no matter how frustrated you may get, it’s never a good idea to lash out, yell or berate students in front of their peers. That’s not a respectful way to communicate.
Instead, encourage accountability and respect. And no matter how frustrating or maddening the day has been, focus on identifying what went wrong and finding ways to reduce those problems down the line.
Don’t Point Fingers. Seek Solutions
It’s important to remember that for most teachers, there will always be problem students. But at the end of the day, you are the teacher, and classroom management success or failure is ultimately your responsibility.
If your class is chronically failing or misbehaving, don’t look for excuses. Look for solutions.
Do you have a very chatty class? Try mixing up the seating chart. Did one test project produce disastrous results? Take a step back and determine what you might have done differently.
As James Feldkamp knows, sometimes you just have to get a little creative. This means not only identifying the “why” of the issue, but experimenting with different fixes until you find something that works. Being a teacher means being a problem solver.