The first step in developing effective teaching techniques is to develop a positive learning climate in the classroom. If the climate is not positive, only the most determined students will succeed. To reach the majority of students, many factors must be taken into account.
There are some easily identifiable factors that contribute to the classroom environment. These include factors such as: the size of the class; the range of background and experience among the learners; the seating arrangement; the temperature and ventilation of the room; and the availability of equipment in good working order. But beyond these physical and logistic factors is the relationship between the teacher and learner. The way this relationship is established and maintained often makes a pivotal difference between a good, bad or indifferent experience for both the educator and the learner. This is particularly true with upper primary and high school age students who are in the middle of often-turbulent adolescent years.
Often in the first class session, students are looking to affirm or negate their preconceived notions about an instructor. Teachers have their job cut out for them. Stephen Covey author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” suggests that successful people seek first to understand, then to be understood. By taking time to find out about the students in the classroom, the instructor builds a base for future positive learning situations where learners feel the instructor at least tries to understand them.
During the first class session Lenz (1984) suggests the teacher to follow a plan similar to the following:
In the first encounter, the students will be making judgments about their new teacher. They will look for cues that will answer the typical questions in their minds: Will you prepare for class, or are you intending to “wing it?” Are you patient? Compassionate? Do you have a sense of humor? Are you fair? Do you have any strong prejudices? Perhaps most important: Do you really enjoy teaching?
It is natural for the instructor to also pick up signals from the class, making mental notes for the future. Developing judgments about the students can blind the instructor to the range of possibilities the learners may possess behind what is often a protective facade. It is the instructor’s task to look beyond facades and draw out the potential in every learner.
Of course the number of students in the class has a direct relation to the interaction between the learner and the instructor from the first session onward. But even in large classes, the teacher who is open and enthusiastic, knows and cares about the subject matter of the course, has the human touch, and regards each member of the class as an interesting and important individual, can create an atmosphere where students feel comfortable and confident and are prepared to fulfill their responsibilities as learners.