5 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers

The Five Habits of Highly-Effective Teachers


Have you ever been walking down a crowded street and heard somebody shout your name?  You halted in your tracks, pivoted, and searched frantically for the source of the voice.  But alas, you discover with disappointment that it had been just a stranger addressing another stranger who happened to share your name.  You walk on, and try to remember what you were thinking before the interruption but you cant.  Your name is still ringing in your ears.

Names are power.  Use them when you pose a question, use them when you need to reprimand bad behavior in class, use them when you want to congratulate a student for a remarkable answer.  Don’t simply point at them….  Hey you, in the back, an accusatory finger.  Immediately the whole back row falls silent and looks down.   Nobody is bold enough to volunteer or even look at you.  But you have a solution.  You breath deeply and then announce, in a confidence voice,  Judy, read question 4 on page 18.  Everybody else follow along.  Judy does exactly what you ask.  Thank you, Judy.  Now, we need Kevin to answer the question for us.  Kevin, what did you write?

In a large class, it is more difficult to learn students names.  However, it is even more important to do so in these situations.  Classes with over 15 students are much more difficult to control, since you cannot constantly engage each student.  However, if you use their names confidently and unpredictably, they’ll grow to expect it, and will focus carefully so that they are not caught off guard when you call on them.

You’re teaching 9 new courses this session.  Most courses have between 8-14 students.  That means, you have about a hundred students to remember.  Obviously, you can expect perfection.  However, you can compensate.  I make two lists on my first day of class.  The first is an attendence sheet, with rows for grads, that I can submit for each student as the semester continues.  Most importantly, I have a seating chart which I fill in carefully at the beginning of each class.


Don’t be embarassed if you don’t know a student’s name.  It’s more embarassing if you wait, and then you still don’t know.  Just be blunt about it and ask.  Hey, what’y you’re name?  Sorry, I remember you but I have so many students, I’m mixing up names.  You are…?  Jun-Ho.  Ah, Jun-Ho! I forgot your name last week too, didn’t I, Jun Ho?  It’s ok.  No, it’s not ok.  What’s my name?  Nathan.  Good, you rememeber.  But it wouldn’t be alright If you called me Nick instead, alright.

Anyways,  at the beginning of class each day, you construct the seating chart, so you know exactly who everyone is and where they’re sitting.  After a few classes of that, you’ll probably have internalized everybody’s names.





Don’t just lecture and expect your students to listen.  Even if they seem attentive, you’re just wasting their time.  They can get that information from a book.  Instead, ask your students constant questions to help them remember and understand the material.  People learn faster when they discover information (make the links themselves) rather than simply being told.

Although the notion of asking questions seems relatively straightforward and easy to implement, asking the right questions requires considerable finesse.

Yes or no questions are not very effective, since they don’t require the student to think critically.  However, when quickly followed up by a more open-ended question, a simple yes or no question might be appropriate to get the dialogue moving.

Extremely vague or broad questions should also be avoided, since these don’t give the student anything concrete to focus on and may seem intimidating.

Remember that most complicated questions can be broken down into a series of simpler questions.   If a student is incapable of answering your question, rather than simply correcting the answer or asking another student (which could embarrass the first student), try asking the question in a different way, or beginning with a more fundamental question and building from there.  These kinds of questions are often referred to as ‘leading questions’ since their purpose is to lead the class to a higher level of understanding.

To see this in action,  let’s look at an example, which consists of a short reading passage from the SAT followed by a comprehension question.  Notice how the teacher guides the student from an incorrect answer to the correct answer, but does not simply give away the answer.

    I chose to wander by BethlehemHospital; partly, because it lay
    on my road round to Westminster; partly, because I had a fancy
    in my head which could be best pursued within sight of its
    walls. And the fancy was: Are not the sane and the insane
5   equal at night as the sane lie a dreaming? Are not all of us
    outside this hospital, who dream, more or less in the
    condition of those inside it, every night of our lives? Are
    we not nightly persuaded, as they daily are, that we associate
    preposterously with kings and queens, and notabilities of all
10  sorts? Do we not nightly jumble events and personages and times
    and places, as these do daily? Said an afflicted man to me,
    when I visited a hospital like this, ‘Sir, I can frequently
    fly.’ I was half ashamed to reflect that so could I – by night.
    I wonder that the great master, when he called Sleep the death
15  of each day’s life, did not call Dreams the insanity of each
    day’s sanity.

Passage adapted from: The Uncommercial Traveller, C Dickens (1860)

1. It can be correctly inferred that Bethlehem hospital

I is very close to Westminster
II has patients who are regarded as insane
III is a place the author has visited before

A. I only
B. II only
C. III only
D. I and II
E. I, II andIII

T:  Alright, Amy, what did you get for question 1?

S: I’m not sure?

T:  Well, don’t worry about that for now.  What did you guess?

S:  D?

T:  Alright.  Why D?

S:  I don’t know.  It seemed right.

T:  “Seemed right?”  Well, it may be, but we’ll need more justification than that.  So, according to answer D, we can infer premises I and II.  Let’s look at them one at a time.  Premise I.  What does premise I state?

S: That Bethlehem hospital is very close toWestminster.

T:  Ok.  So, this should be something we can prove.  The passage only mentions Westminster once.  Find that sentence:

S:   I chose to wander by Bethlehem Hospital; partly, because it lay on my road round to Westminster–

T:  Ok.  Stop there.  That should be enough for us to answer this.  What does that passage tell us about the geographical relationship between Bethlehem Hostpital and Westminster? 

S:  It’s on the way toWestminster.

T: So?

S: So, I is correct?

T: You tell me.  Is Bethelehem Hospital very close to Westminster?

S: Probably?

T: So, imagine this.  I’m driving fromNew YorktoSan Franciscoand I decide to stop in Chicago because it’s on the way.  Is Chicago close to San Francisico.

S:  No.

T: Of course not! It’s thousands of miles away.  So, is Bethelehm necessarily close to Westminster?

S: No, not necessarily.

T: Right.  It could be, but we don’t have enough information to infer that.  All we know is that it’s on the way.  So, is premise I correct?

S: No.

T: Exactly.  So, then, what about Premise II, which you say is also correct.  Where’s our proof?

S: Are not the sane and the insane equal at night as the sane lie a dreaming? Are not all of us outside this hospital, who dream, more or less in the condition of those inside it, every night of our lives?

T:  Good.  So, you mention two groups of people: those inside the hospital and those outside.  And you mention two mental states: sane and insane.  Which group can we identify as sane?

S:  The ones outside the hospital.

T: And insane?

S:  The ones inside.

T:  So, is premise II correct?

S:  Yes.

T:  Alright, then, what’s the answer to the question?

S: B

The student has now arrived at the correct answer and, best of all, she has gotten there herself, demonstrating that she understands not just the answer but the techniques necessary to solve a similar question on the real test.


When you ask a question, don’t just wait for a hand to raise.  Sometimes you won’t get a volunteer but, above all, if you do this too much, you’ll find the same students volunteering again and again while others remain quiet.

Over the course of a one hour class with 12 students, you should try to call on each individual student 4-5 times.

Teachers who practice this technique create a classroom dynamic in which each student expects to be called on at any moment and, therefore, is unlikely to risk zoning out.


As a variation to cold calling, in which you arbitrarily chose the next volunteer, try using a quick game.  I like to do a countup game, where we go around the class, counting toward 31, which each student allowed to say up to 3 numbers at a time.  Whoever lands on 31 has to answer the questions.  It’s fair, transparent, and entertaining.




Habits are hard to break.  In general, it’s better to be a bit strict at first, and to back off as the semester continues.   Fail to set rigorous guidelines on the first class, and your limits will be tested.  By the second or third week, that originally obedient and quiet class may have devolved into a zoo.

However, you also want to build good rapport with your students and to earn their admiration and respect.

Although these goals may seem contradictory, they’re not.  Be confident.  Be quick whited.  Be rigorous.  Be able to roll with with unexpected comments you get from students and, when possible, incorporate them into your lesson, but never to the point that it interferes with your lesson.  Remember that, as teacher, you are the one with the power to control the pace and flow of the class.


One day, a student with perfect grades and active participation forgets her homework.  You believe that she left it at home and you let it slide.  The next day another student who always sits in the back of the room where you always catch her writing notes to her friends or sending text mesages forgets her homework.  You give her a zero.

It might seem fair, compassionate, reasonable, but is it good teaching?  The answer is, emphatically, no.  Inconsistent inforcement of the restrictions will undermine your credibility.  When it comes to teaching, it’s either all or nothing.  If you let underable behavior slide 50% of the time, your occasional efforts to crack down will seem arbitrary.  After a while, your students will begin to suspect favoritism in your every decision, and take all discipline personally.  Stick to the rules and implement them with precision.   Your students will respect you for it.

To avoid confusion later on, we recommend that you give your students a written list of expectations on the first class.

Also, give grades.  Even if the school does not require it, design a system for evaluating homework and other assignments, and record each students score on every assignment.  Non only will this provide a clear indication of their performance in the class but, also, it will make it much easier to write detailed and accurate comments for the students parent’s later on.




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