Not every school or teacher has a high budget—but every classroom can be high-quality. Although research on the learning-conducive environment has been limited, even a rough understanding of human psychology can enable a teacher to improve his or her own classroom environment.
Treat the Eyes to a Natural View
Kids who feel boxed in and institutionalized will be less effective in a classroom—and so will you, if there’s nothing to look at except blank walls or the same old boring “educational” posters. It’s best if your classroom has a window to let in sunshine and “green” views of the outdoors. (No, this won’t lead to students staring out the window instead of paying attention to their lessons—or if it does, welcome that as an opportunity to notice when the class may need a stand-up-and-stretch break, or you may need to rethink whether you’re teaching with passion.) Natural light is good for physical health; reminders of the outside world revive the spirit; a “long view” improves physical vision by giving the eyes opportunity for regular refocusing; and you or one of the kids may well spot a perfect lesson illustration passing by outside.
If you lack a “room with a view,” bring a little nature into the classroom: potted plants, flowers, a fish tank. Hang nature posters on the walls—and rotate them regularly—even if your subject is algebra.
Know and Love Your Material
If you find the subject you’re teaching a bore, can you complain if your students sit glazed-eyed? Don’t just study the official teacher materials: look for other sources and learn everything you can about your topic. And remember, you don’t have to teach the exact same class every year; even with the same textbooks, you always have plenty of opportunities to think of new ideas to implement.
If you can’t get excited about the “official” curricula, don’t be afraid to research elsewhere and write your own material—or to substitute different, more interesting texts. School systems vary in how much freedom you will be allowed there; but in any case, base your goals for every class on the question: If I knew for a fact that most of these students would never read a word of the recommended textbook, how would I teach so they could still grasp all the important points?
Maximize Opportunities for Student Input
The “just sit still and listen” approach is long outdated as a teaching method. Kids will stay a lot more interested—and learn a lot more effectively—if given freedom to ask questions or share comments as they wish. Of course, you’ll need raise-your-hand-first rules and a plan for discouraging pointless chatter: but never make “getting through the whole lesson” more important than the students’ needs. (You can get specific ideas by Googling “seminar tips for the presenter”: seminar speakers are expert at balancing what needs to be covered with what resonates with the audience.)
Make the kids feel part of the active process, and they’ll be eager to learn!