7 Ways to Become a Better Teacher

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Sucking at something is the first step to becoming sorta good at something image

Even as a teacher, you never stop learning. With the help of our amazing students, we were able to learn a lot about what went right, what went wrong, and what we could change from our inaugural cohort. We came in as full stack ux or ui designers with no formal education or experiences in teaching a class, and only a yearning to teach others our passion.

After nine weeks, we’ve come out with many lessons learned. Whether you’re teaching a classroom, or tutoring just a single person, we hope these tips can help you out if you find yourself in the position.

I will not repeat myself - don't repeat yourself image

1. Follow DRY: In programming, there’s a well-known principle called DRY, which stands for ‘don’t repeat yourself.’ This principle works well in life too. If you’re teaching anyone a technical topic, chances are you’re not the first person to come up with teaching material. Don’t recreate the basics that are well documented everywhere on the Web. Make a list of external resources, review the content, and pluck the most applicable resources that are most suited with the curriculum.

Add on top to that with your proprietary content, and you’ll find you have something that’s extremely tailor-made, that covers a tremendous amount of content. Time spent in class is better spent enhancing students’ skills and knowledge on top of those basics.

Homer Simpson Comic Repeating Stuff and Things

2. Answer questions before each class: At the beginning of every class, the first thing you should do is to ask the class if anyone has any questions from the last session and the assignments/projects/homework. This way, you can see prominent concerns and issues that you might not see if you don’t ask.

Let the feedback be your guide, and you’ll gain a perspective on how effective your teaching is.

Classroom comic

3. Announce next session’s content after each session: At the end of each class session, announce what the next class will be covering. You should also update the milestones (e.g., what the students should be comfortable with, what they should be knowledgeable about thus far).

This way, your students have the responsibility to come prepared and there’s a coherent path [with little uncertainty] about the future.


4. Show your human side: Be more transparent about your own past — be relatable. Tell personal stories about how you learned that particular subject. Show off your embarrassing past works, and compare them to the projects you’ve created today. Students really appreciate seeing this, and it gives them inspiration when they see the full picture. Sometimes learning something can be overwhelming, and you have to remind people that you didn’t always start that way.

Studying Sucks - There's no punchline for that!

5. Be comforting — have empathy with your student(s): No matter the subject, learning is about the effort. It comes down to the students being able to push themselves to keep focused, dedicate time and effort to accomplish the lofty goals a class sets for them. Most of our students in the inaugural cohort held full-time jobs and got caught up in work during their busy weeks. As a teacher, you should explicitly state ‘even if you don’t finish your homework/assignments, we still urge you to show up.’ This way, there’s no feelings of guilt, or misalignment with expectation management. People get busy — it’s best to understand that fact and empathize with your students.

Classroom math-based comic

6. Be practical — have a goal: Do you remember those kids in high school who would always ask their math teacher, “when are we ever going to be using this stuff in the real world?” There’s a reason someone is trying to learn from you. Show them how the content relates to real life. “If you’re doing research on a user, what’s the point of that?” “If you’re able to code gradients and a simple jQuery script, how can you apply that to product execution?” Continually remind students why they are learning what they are learning, and make projects that revolve around the content and goal(s).

Student raising their hand in a classroom setting

7. Know your purpose as a teacher: The focus is not to teach, or to test. A teacher’s job is to facilitate learning. This is what we aim for with The Designation, and this is something we try not to forget in each class session.

We’re tremendously, super-duper, ecstatically excited to be applying these lessons for our next cohort, and we’re currently accepting applications for the Fall ’13 class. If you’ve been wanting to learn design, we would love to teach you.

You can visit designation.io to learn more about our mission, or to apply now.

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