I took an Introduction to American Politics honors class with Professor John J. Pitney this past semester. He is a masterful teacher and this post will capture the lessons I drew on how to effectively engage a class. I hope it’s useful for other teachers reading this.
Be respected as an authority on the material: In any place where students are intellectually curious, they first want to be assured that you know your stuff. At most good high schools or colleges, it’s assumed teachers know the material. But effective teachers will provide background on how and why they know what they’re talking about. As students, we’re trained to be skeptical, so convince us.
Tell stories. This is a universal Good Thing for effective communicating, no less in formal teaching. His stories are all the more vivid since he was there (earlier in his career) — in D.C., in Albany, in the back room, wherever. 1) Make a statement, 2) Illustrate with a story, 3) Repeat.
Be weird and wacky. Pitney stomped and jumped all over the classroom. He did weird impersonations. He raised his voice, lowered his voice. He laughed. He showed odd videos. All this made him memorable. Weird is good.