18/100: Reflecting on Penny Ur’s Teaching Tips – 3. Interesting Lessons & Discipline

Don't turn your back on me! Naomi's Photos
Don’t turn your back on me!
Naomi’s Photos

This is part three of my blogging challenge.

As a veteran teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of doing things a certain way just because I’ve done them that way for years, without remembering the reason why. 

I’ve decided to set myself a blogging challenge – reflect on one tip from each of the 18 sections that compose Penny Ur’s latest book: 100 Teaching Tips”, so as to dust off old practices that may have remained unexamined for too long.

Tip Number 13: “Make the lesson interesting”

A big YES along with a “but…”

Of course I wholeheartedly agree that the more students (each and every one of them!) are involved, interested and engaged in the lesson, the less opportunities there are for discipline problems. Bored students are a recipe for trouble.

That is a tip I certainly always strive to apply, though cannot honestly say I succeed every single day and every single lesson.

However, that’s not the “but”.

This tip strikes a raw nerve. Still raw even though it harks back to my first months as a teacher back in 1985!

I started teaching elementary school after beginning my third year at the university. Not ony hadn’t I graduated yet, the university courses taught us many things (such as normal and abnormal language development) but classroom management wasn’t one of the topics dealt with in any meaningful way. The message I did get, very very clearly though, was that if the lessons were interesting, I would not have discipline problems.

Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos

But I had discipline problems. Lots of them. The kids saw this young teacher’s lessons, who only taught them 3 hours a week, as an opportunity for “party time”.  Back then there were no cochlear implants and when a deaf child chose to ignore the teacher and not look at her, the situation was very difficult (no visual contact, no communication).

And I couldn’t understand it. I worked harder and harder and brought in amazing visuals and activities. I found out what the kids were interested in and tailored my activities to their level and interests, taking into account the students with additional learning disabilities and handicaps.  I thought the main problem was me not being able to create interesting enough lessons.

My “aha” moment came after a lesson where I had truly outdone myself. I have no recollection of what I actually did in the lesson, but I remember carrying lots of bags with me on the long bus ride (three busses, actually) to work. And I will never forget that every single one of those eight misbehaving children came to me at the end of the lesson and thanked me for the lesson.

I was sure I had it nailed. Now they knew that lessons with me could be awesome and they would give me a chance to teach them the next day.

Ha. Little did I know. The next day was business as usual. Or lack of it.

That’s how I learned the lesson that first the students need to know that you mean business, that their behavior will be reported to the home room teacher / the computer system / the parents / the grade system and that there is a clear system of consequences in the lessons with this teacher too.

THEN, when your lessons are interesting, you will hardly need to activate any of these consequences…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *