What I've Learned as a Teacher

Since I became a teacher, I've learned that grades are stupid, tests are boring, taking breaks are important, keep lectures short and let students work on real projects.

Four years ago I took a job as the head teacher for a web developer program. It involves teaching, planning future lessons, hire teachers and handle everyday boring teacher administration which I won't bother telling you about.

I've learned a lot during these years and in this article I'll go through some of my most important learnings.

Grades Are Stupid

We tell our students on day one that we won't discuss grades. We simply won't tell them. We've actually gone as far as to give this idea a slogan - "Fuck The Grades". The reasoning behind this is that no one cares. Most employers won't ask to see your grades. They will probably ask you what you've created, what languages you're comfortable with and maybe if you've a diploma.

We still have to give our students grades. The school needs to know who should receive a diploma. The students can receive one of the following three on their assignments:

  • IG (not approved) basically means you didn't take part of the workshops
  • G (approved) you've listened during the workshops
  • VG (well done) you've taken extra care of your assignments

I believe this creates anxiety among students. "He is better than I." "She already seems to know everything, why am I behind?" "Everyone else know so much already." These are things I hear from students all the time. Why should we also burden them with grades? If I were to decide there should only be two grades. You've either learned the knowledge or you haven't.

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Not telling our students about their grades creates a good atmosphere. Students often let us know how not telling them lets them focus on their knowledge instead of their grades.

We shouldn't make them compete against each other. They are one team and will learn a lot more helping each other out.

There are of course other things which can affect your grades such as cheating and mental depression but in this scenario everyone is exactly alike.

Tests Are Boring

We try to keep the web developer program as similar to a real life working environment as possible. You wouldn't write an essay or a report when you deliver a new website to a client. You don't have to complete a test before the client pays your bill. Then why should you do those things in school?

Our students write code 40 hours a week. Instead of taking tests and writing essays, they are given projects. It could be anything from building a memory in JavaScript to building a headless CMS.

Each semester we bring in real clients. Mostly organizations or startups which don't have a lot of money but can provide knowledge and experience from the industry. The students work closely with the client during the projects. They build and deliver a finished product which the client then evaluates based on their initial brief.

The school is a higher vocational education institution. It means that the school and our web developer program wouldn't exist if there was no need in the industry.

Take Breaks

This might be one of the important things we teach our students. Take short breaks, away from your screen, as often as possible. For every 45 minutes they spend in the classroom, they have to take a 15-minute break.

āœ… They socialize with each other and discuss the lesson exercises.

āœ… They solve exercises in their head without even knowing it (simply by thinking about something else).

āœ… They help their bodies adapt to their new choice of work (save your back by standing up at least once every 20 minutes).

āœ… They breathe fresh air by going outside to buy coffee or simply to walk.

Keep Lectures Short

Listening to a lecture for long hours without breaks doesn't help students keep their focus. I know this is common at universities and colleges.

We keep our lectures as short as possible. Each lesson is three hours long. The first 45 minutes (often shorter) is dedicated to the teacher lecturing. The students are then given exercises which they can complete during the rest of the lesson. This is basically like any other workshop.

I believe it is easier to learn if you try it yourself. I think this is especially true when you learn how to code. Code, break things and learn from your mistakes.

In Conclusion

We listen to our students and try our best to make their time in school a fun adventure. The program is as much theirs as it is ours.

We've found a format which our students like. They learn a lot during their two years in school and most have job offers before their examination.

Try to find out what works best for you and your students.