One of the best guides to teaching that I have come across is “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu. Make no mistake, teaching is war. While this may sound incredibly callous and severe, hear me out.
I love teaching, I have been teaching for 11 years. All 11 years have been in front of an inner-city, high school demographic. I am currently the department chair of science at my school which services grades 1-12. I started my career in research science, specifically Komodo dragon behaviors, but found education to be my calling.
However you are not here to hear about me, you are here about teaching. So here it is. I modified “The Art of War” to something I like to call “The Art of Teaching”.
The Art of War is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations.
1. The Moral Law Causes people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger. The people must believe in the leader. People will not live and die for a paycheck, but they will live and die for a cause they believe in.
As a Teacher: Your students must believe in you to learn from you. A student will only work so hard for a grade, but they will work their hardest for a teacher they believe in.
2. Heaven: This signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and season You must know the environment you are fighting in so you know the best times to fight
As a Teacher: You must know how the environment affects your students. Sunny days have a different affect than cloudy days. A messy classroom can lead to messy work. Lights on may be needed at one point in the day where lights off might work better at another part of the day, after lunch might call for a different approach than before lunch. The Classroom is a dynamic environment and you must recognize how it changes hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.
3. Earth: Comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death. You must know the terrain you are fighting in so you can take advantage of it and use it for your benefit…in this case the terrain is the student’s personality.
As a Teacher: You must know each student and how to get the most from them. An easily distracted student must be given a task to focus his energy, have him write on the board instead of you, a listless student must be constantly talked to and know you recognize they are not putting forth the effort. Recognize when to scold bad behavior and when to ignore it. Always recognize good behavior. Know the emotional terrain of each student you are treading on. Some students respond to scolding while others shut down, know when to wield your power and when to holster it.
4. The Commander: Stand for the virtues of Wisdom, Sincerity, Benevolence, Courage, and Strictness. A good leader must be virtuous, intelligent, know when to be kind and know when to be strict.
As a Teacher: You must know your content and you must love your content. Students will pick up when you are questioning yourself and when you don’t care about the subject at hand. If you do not care about, it why should they? Admit when you made a mistake and model how to act when you are wrong. A good leader is just that, a leader. You are not their friends. You are their guides. Your decisions should be made in the interest of the student’s long-term growth, not in their instant gratification. You must practice what you preach. A good teacher acts how they want their students to act. If you give them an assignment, do that assignment with them. Show them you are doing the assignment because it has merit, not just to keep them busy.
5. Method and Discipline: You must have precise methods and disciplines for your soldiers to follow. They should know what to do without you telling them. A properly disciplined army works as one unit for a common goal.
As a Teacher: You must have clear and concise rules and expectations for your students. They should know at all times what you expect from them and what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior. Students should know how to enter your classroom, how you expect assignments to be completed and handed in, and what you expect from them on a daily basis. Students should always be able to predict your reaction to a situation. A teacher cannot allow their mood to permeate into the classroom. Whether you are having a bad day or a good day your reaction to a situation must be exactly the same.
These are the 5 rules to be successful at teaching.