Bring some SHAZAM to your classroom teaching

I remember taking an astrophysics class at the Museum of Natural History in New York City where the draw was that world-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson would be our teacher! As I nervously entered the small auditorium I thought “what the heck am I doing?” I would certainly know the least of anyone in the room, but then again, anything I learned would be cool. When Dr. deGrasse Tyson stepped out onto the stage, he smiled and waved, moved to the center, kicked off his loafers and sat down on the edge of the stage. He then apologized for being a little late due to a family issue, and then asked what we wanted to talk about.   

This is what I would call a SHAZAM moment in teaching. I was nervous, not sure who was in the room with me, and did not want to feel foolish. The world-renowned astrophysicist knew that might be the tone of the room, and immediately set us at ease by making us feel like he was a real person, and that we might learn from each other by having story hour. Anyone who has taught students in a classroom might recognize this scenario as the way their students feel when they come into your learning space for the first time.   

Effective teachers engage their students in a way that makes the students feel comfortable, and hardly know they are learning. SHAZAM comes when teachers share information with interest, demonstrate the information’s relevance, exude enthusiasm, and connect with their students. To do that, teachers must find their own passion for what they are teaching and recognize each student as an individual.   

Here are six SHAZAMING tips that I have picked up after 20 years of teaching in New York City and my work supporting AP science teachers at Mass Insight: 

  1. Find your own interest in anything you will be teaching; you have a better chance of keeping your students engaged if you present with interest. 
  2. Dig deep for every lesson; know your material deeply so you present with easeful authority. 
  3. Follow your own script; even if you use someone else’s lesson, use your own style and organization to present it. 
  4. Provide an immediate connection; students always want to know how whatever they are learning applies directly to their lives right now. 
  5. Offer only authentic enthusiasm; share something excitedly because you actually feel that way. Students will see right through it if you are not genuine. 
  6. Be the spark!; if your enthusiasm ignites that of one or two kids, that fire will be passed along to their peers. 

Knowing your course material deeply will help you know what you can get excited about for each lesson. Presenting with enthusiasm will help you keep your students interested. Knowing your students as individuals will let them know you see them for who they are. If you think you don’t have the time to follow these suggestions, make the time. It is all part of the SHAZAM! 

Ed Wren

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