Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lessons Learned in the Classroom

 I can never resist articles that promise a finite number of answers: the three most important qualities of a good teacher, the five new technology tools everyone needs to know, the seven characteristics of a good manager, that sort of thing.  So when I saw Dr. Paula Cohen’s article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the 10 lessons she’s learned from her teaching career, I had to check it out. 

Cohen’s 10 lessons, learned over three decades of teaching English at Drexel University, were these:

  1. Don't take things personally.
  2. Be accountable to your students.
  3. Make students accountable for their performance.
  4. Simplify.
  5. Don't rush—i.e., slow down.
  6. Listen.
  7. Use. (I was relieved to see that this didn’t refer to illegal substances but rather to using everything said or done in the classroom as part of the teaching process).
  8. Connect learning to life.
  9. Make form follow function. (Don’t adopt a new tool until you weigh both what will be gained and what will be lost.)
  10. Trust your voice and amplify it. (Admit, for instance, when you don’t know something and then model “how not to know.”)

Her exploration of each of these 10 lessons is thought-provoking, and for me it raised the question of what else I would add. One “lesson” that came to mind was “Appreciate the joy.”  When I’m in the classroom, I’m doing something I love, and I think it’s important to my students and to myself that I remember to be grateful for that, even when faced with stacks of homework awaiting my attention or hours of meetings awaiting my presence.   

What would you add?  What lessons have you learned from your classroom during your teaching career?  Can we make it a baker’s dozen? Or two?


  1. Here are the two lessons I have learned from the classroom during my teaching career. They are generalizations which are not necessarily tied to the classroom and, hence, should admit exceptions and a word of caution.

    1. Colleges and universities are becoming more (and more) like high schools.

    2. Students do not seem to learn much in colleges and universities or, in other words, college and university degrees may not be worth much.

    Safro Kwame

    1. Dear Kwame,

      In the world of business there are ways of enhancing the college degree. Accounting majors now have to satisfy 150 hours of college credits in order to get into entry level accounting jobs. In order to advance in the field of accounting, taxation, and consulting from within an accounting firms, first degree graduates are expected to take the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) externally administered by the CPA association for that state. The accounting majors are expected to do more college or graduate level work and the CPA. The key principle here is that the CPA is handled by an external examination body.

      Medical doctors, nurses, lawyers most high school teachers, engineers, and other professionals take external certification exams in their respective fields in order to remain viable and be able to practice.

      College and university degrees could become more valuable if the graduates add on extra certifications.

      Two of my colleagues in Canada reached the Vice President of Finance categories at the Alberta Telecommunications and Nestles Corporations by taking the Canadian Registered Industrial Accounting degrees, the counterpart to the American Certified Management Accounting Degree (CMA). I topped up my master's and PhD degrees with an MS in Accounting and Taxation. Shouldn't the bachelor's degree be topped up for competing in the labor market?

      Doing the extra mile magnifies the bachelor's degree potential and increases the speed at which college degree holders advance in their fields and on their jobs.

      With an extra certificate from the professional bodies in any field a college or university degree holder would seem to learn a lot.

      Ganga Ramdas