How to Teach a Class
Basic Needs of Students
You’ll need to attend to these first thing!
- Bathrooms: At the beginning of a class, tell people where the bathrooms are (or, if on a walking tour or bike tour, know where to direct students to bathrooms along the way).
- Water: Tell students where they can find water. Ask students to bring water to a class that involves exercise, and have some extra on hand just in case.
- Food: For longer classes let students know in the class description whether food will be provided, or whether they can bring snacks. D.C. public libraries don’t allow food, but you can send people outside to eat during a break.
- Clothing: If you are planning a class that involves exercise, add a note in the class description that asks students to wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
- Breaks: Give your students breaks. Don’t plan more than 90 minutes of activity without a break.
- Safety: If you ever feel you or anyone else is in danger, stop the class. Get help. Call 911.
- Noise: Have you turned your cell phone to vibrate or silent? You can ask your students to do so, as well. Also, be mindful before you talk or play music while students are completing another activity. If they’re filling out a worksheet, for example, keep your own talking to a minimum so they can concentrate.
Consider these before the class.
Space Setup: If possible, pay a visit beforehand to the space where you’ll host your class to get a sense of your ideal setup. If you can’t get there, ask your wrangler to tell you more about the space.
Closed vs. Open Spaces: If you are going to ask students to share personal information, let your wrangler know so s/he can obtain a suitably private space.
Sightlines: Can students see you, your visual materials, and each other? Test this out with by sitting or standing in different parts of the space. For discussions, it is ideal if students are in a circle or other formation so that no one needs to turn their back on anyone else. Ask students to move around the space if you think other students can’t see them.
Many teachers ask us to provide a projector for their class. We’re glad to do so, but we believe that not all classes need slides. Those classes that would benefit from slides should have the best ones possible. See Making Slides.
We often suggest beginning a KCDC class by having students introduce themselves and tell us why they are there. This provides an opportunity for students to get to know each other, and it gives the teacher a chance to understand the students’ backgrounds and goals.
Doing introductions also breaks the ice. We’ve found students are more likely to talk and ask questions later in the class if they’ve been through introductions.
If it is a huge class (20 or more folks), an introduction by every student might not be possible. Be creative and break the ice in a different way. For example, you can ask students to introduce themselves to the people next to them. You can ask for volunteers to tell the whole class why they are there today.
Use the answers to the question “Why are you here?” to inform what you emphasize during class. If it seems like all the students have a lot of background in the subject, maybe you can zip through certain parts more quickly. If it seems like everyone is hung up on one aspect, allow more time for that segment.
Set expectations at the beginning of class. If a student voices a personal goal for the class and you can’t actually cover that during the class time, be frank with him or her about it. (You can always offer suggestions for resources to help them achieve their goal.) And don’t feel bad! Sometimes students just don’t read your class description carefully.
Explain how the class will be structured. For example: a 15-minute bike ride, then a break, then a discussion.
Repeat your goals throughout the class as necessary and give students a heads-up before you transition to the next phase of your class, so they can finish what they’re doing or ask questions before you move ahead.
At the end of class, repeat the goals you had for the students and ask them to reflect on what they learned, or how they plan to use their new knowledge in the future. Keep it positive!
Discussion and Q&A
In a discussion, ask students to repeat themselves or to speak more loudly if you think some of the other students might not have heard. You can ask your facilitator beforehand to help you with this.
Build time into your class schedule for students’ questions, and encourage them to speak up before the class ends. If the space allows you to stay after class to answer more questions, whether you do so is up to you.
When you get a question you don’t know the answer to, be OK with saying “I don’t know.” You can also say “I’ll look that up for you and get back to you.” Sometimes you can recommend a book or a website that will help answer the question, or maybe another student or the facilitator of the class has some expertise in that area and can help.
Sometimes, in a discussion-based class, one or two students may dominate the conversation. As best as possible, try to direct them back to what you need to cover during the class. You might have to say “OK, let’s hear from someone else now.” Or, “We want to hear from everyone, would you hold your thought?”
You have a backup person at all times to help keep your class on track. Feel free to strategize with the facilitator before class. Your facilitator can be the “bad cop” to your “good cop” and help you rein in students if necessary.
Different Learning Styles
Students have different ways they learn best. Some people are visual, some aural, some logical, some physical, some social and some solitary. Try to teach to multiple learning styles. For example, don’t make your entire class a lecture. Instead, get students up and doing an activity. You might include visuals, chances for students to debate each other, do solitary work, or to work in groups. Mix it up!
Students love follow-ups! Send your facilitator an email containing whatever assets you promised — digital copies of the handouts, a fact you said you’d look up, recommended reading, etc. S/he will forward your email to the students.
Soon after class, take some time to write down what you think worked or didn’t work so you can revisit it later. If you want, ask the facilitator, or a student you know in the class, to meet with you and offer feedback.
Read your class evaluations and see if there are any trends or issues that you can address the next time you teach. Your wrangler can send you your evaluations.
Teach again! The first time teaching a class is always the hardest. We encourage you to teach the same thing again, after reworking parts that could be improved. Or maybe you want to try something entirely new! That’s fine, too.