Why I Still Believe in Old-School Teaching

Because some things just never go out of style.

When you’re over 40 and have taught for decades, you’re no longer one of the young, hip teachers fresh out of college. I try to work on my pop culture references here and there just to stay relevant with my students. I also use modern technology when I can because it can save so much time!

Yet, there are still some areas where I still like to kick it with old-school teaching. With all the modern devices and endless technologies at our fingertips, I’m still partial to these old-school teaching methods.

1. You can’t beat face-to-face communication.

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The signature line of any email sent from my iPhone reads, “Sent from my Destroyer of Language and Human Interaction.” That is what my students see underneath my response to virtually every query via email: Please see me tomorrow so that we can discuss this in person. It is the same response I send when students text me via Remind. It is difficult to read tone in an email or a text. It’s also easy to forget you are speaking to another actual human being. Teachers should always emphasize the importance of human interaction.

2. There’s just something to editing with a pen.

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As a writer, I love my Chromebook like I love my wife and children. Still, there’s no substitute for printed pages. Once a draft gets to a certain level of completeness, I have to stop scrolling up and down on a digital page. I believe students need to be able to lay it all out on a table, or a park bench, or a floor, and look at the whole. Too often technology is synonymous with time saving. But I’ve seen it firsthand: Students edit and revise more carefully when they are forced to slow down and go old-school. So tell those kids to grab whatever color pen they want, find a comfy place to spread out, and mark up those pages with some edits.

3. Banning the use of cell phones can help learning.

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I get all the arguments about using phones in class. There are times I have exploited the interactive frenzy of a good Kahoot, but on an average day, phones should not be part of class. Phones are a constant distraction with an endless stream of snaps and tweets pulling students’ attention away from sustained thought. There is a lot of research available that supports the argument that sustained, focused thought is an integral part of the creative and academic processes. For your one period, or part of the day if you are an elementary school teacher, ban them completely and watch the creative juices flow.

4. I will always believe in reading aloud.

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I have to confess, while I see the value in having kids read aloud, I hate “Popcorn” reading. Making kids who struggle to read well do so in front of their peers seems cruel. Making all the other students struggle to wait for the next word seems unproductive. So many teachers are remarkable readers, people whose voices can make a story come alive. Reading in front of a class can be a time for struggling readers to get a break and hear what a story can sound like. It can be a time to infuse the written word with the emotion only an accomplished reader can convey. In the hands of a teacher, a story read aloud can be musical, magical, and downright transcendent. Don’t give that up for any e-reader or computer program.

5. Tough love discipline has its place.

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This one may be the old-schoolest of the bunch. I confess, only two weeks into the school year, I have already made a student cry. I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but some of these kids have been raised in bubbles that have protected them from failure. Many arrive in my high school English class having never gotten less than an A. Literally, not once. This is not healthy, and it certainly does not set them up for overcoming the obstacles we all inevitably face. I am not saying we should be jerks as teachers. Have the tissues ready, tell them you can help them improve, tell them it is okay to make mistakes, and then tell them the truth about the essay they bombed. Life will go on.

Some things just never go out of style. But don’t ever forget the old standbys.

Jeremy Knoll

Posted by Jeremy Knoll

Knoll is a public school English teacher of nearly two decades. Outside of the classroom he spends his time working as a freelance writer or exploring the outdoors with his wife, two boys, and dog. He loves the subject he teaches so much that he named his dog Atticus and got a half-sleeve tattoo depicting a scene from Maurice Sendak's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE to celebrate the birth of his kids.