Harry Wong and his wife, Rosemary, are two of the most respected voices in the education industry. Read any of their books and you will discover facile minds filled to the brim with the latest research combined with decades of experience in teaching and helping others teach better. Their best known book, , is so highly lauded that it is required reading in many university education programs. That book, like all of their publications, is loaded with great information and handy advice that is essential to being an effective teacher. However, one piece of advice stands out above the rest as being Harry Wong’s biggest secret to being a better teacher.
One of the things Wong talks about is being prepared. It is essential that teachers and administrators alike have a detailed plan for what will happen in the first few days of a new school year. Explaining and rehearsing routines that will be used throughout the year is essential. As a matter of fact, Wong makes it clear that for most teachers the year can be be won or lost in the first few days, perhaps even the first few minutes of the school year. For that reason, having a well thought out plan that includes as many contingencies as you can conceive is absolutely essential to being an effective teacher. Yet as good as this advice is, it is not Harry Wong’s Secret to being a better teacher.
The Wong’s also stress the importance of classroom management. “Effective teachers,” they tell us, “manage their classrooms; ineffective teachers discipline a classroom.” They go on to describe what an effective classroom should look like and how it should work. They stress the importance of building an environment that is task oriented with an ingrained expectation of superlative performance. Truth is, it’s amazing what can be done when kids are in a positive environment, with an expectation for excellence and an effective teacher who will uphold high standards for them to achieve. But in spite of the fact that they spend nearly 100 pages talking about it, and in spite of the fact that teachers frequently identify classroom management as their number one concern, this is not the Wong’s secret to being a better teacher.
Harry Wong and his wife also talk at length about lesson mastery. To use their words, “If a student cannot demonstrate learning or achievement, the student has not failed- WE have failed the student.” So, if that is the case, what is the key to making sure our students succeed? The Wong’s answer is straight to the point, “To increase learning and achievement, increase the amount of time students are working.” Too many teachers believe that their most significant time is spent lecturing, but research has shown that students learn most when THEY are working, not the teacher. Great teachers lecture just enough to explain to students what needs to be done and then get out of the way so that students can do as much of it as possible. The results from this kind of strategy can be quite profound. Great teachers can teach as much in a year as a lesser teacher teaches in a year and a half, and yet as significant as this difference is, it is not the Wong’s secret to being a better teacher.
That secret, and he mentions it early in both the book and the accompanying CD, is this: “If you dare to teach, you must dare to learn.” Remember, teaching is a profession and just as doctors, lawyers, accountants and architects have to constantly keep themselves abreast of the latest trends in their profession, so do teachers. Yet many teachers lose sight of this truth and discontinue their personal development as soon as they are given their own classrooms. How tragic in light of the fact that our students desperately need us to be at the very top of our game. No matter how challenging it is to stay current with our knowledge base and skills, our kids deserve our best efforts. They are counting on us to help them find their way, not just through school, but through life itself. Don’t let them down, commit now to excellence by being the most knowledgeable and best prepared teacher your students could possibly find. As Samuel Meisels has said, “The highest stake of all is our ability to help children realize their full potential.”
Get your own copy of Harry and Rosemary Wong’s book here: The First Days of School