For What It’s Worth, Some Tips For New Teachers

Posted: August 15, 2016 in Classroom, Education, Life, Opinion, Things I Love
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The school year is starting soon. Well, at least for some of you. Not for me of course. Have I mentioned I’m retired? B-W-A-H-A-A-H-A-A-H-A-A! But I’ll try and not rub it in too much. Ah, screw it. I can’t lie. While I’m looking forward to my retirement from teaching, the truth is I’ll miss it.

A lot.

But anyway, with the kids returning this week I thought it might be a good time to give my advice to future teachers. Hey, I don’t claim to have all the answers so you can take it or leave it, but I do have a little experience ya know. I had to learn something in 30+ years, right?

Right?

Let us proceed with my pearls of (hopefully) wisdom . . .

  1. Be yourself. By this I mean don’t try and emulate your favorite teacher, your mother, your coach, etc. While you can learn from others, you have to stay true to who you are. If you’re a phony the kids are going to see right through you, but if you’re honest the kids will appreciate it and respect you for it.
  2. Teaching is the best discipline. Yep, the best way to avoid problems in the classroom is to simply keep the kids engaged. Teach. Keep them interested and focused. Don’t hand out a bunch of worksheets or quit early. Downtime leads to trouble. A couple years ago I had a kid who’d had trouble focusing in years prior, and of course this led to behavior issues. Anyway, he was doing fine for me and during a meeting with his mother the principal asked him why he paid attention in my class. His answer of “It’s sort of hard not to” was probably the best compliment a kid ever gave me.
  3. If you don’t know, say so. You don’t have to pretend to be some all-knowing brainiac because you aren’t. Again, the kids will see right through you. It’s perfectly alright to say, “Hey, good question. I don’t know the answer to that one. Let’s look it up.” That’s what Smart Boards are for, folks. In addition, admit it when you’re wrong.
  4. Never, ever, talk down to your students. The best teachers I’ve ever known are the ones who just talk to their students as if they’re talking to an equal. Sure, kids need ripped from time-to-time but it’s best just to keep them on your level, not below you.
  5. Be prepared to fail. Try as we might, we can’t save ’em all. You can’t let one kid drag down the entire class. And remember, when you make all those grandiose plans on Sunday evening? There’s a good chance they’ll all go straight to hell by Tuesday afternoon. Be flexible.
  6. Don’t have a preconceived opinion of your students. Don’t listen to a teacher who had some kid last year tell you what a horrible child he is. Let all of your students start the year with a clean slate, and tell them that the first day. You might be surprised as to how they respond.
  7. Manage your classroom. Want respect from your principal? Don’t send a student to the office every time he or she looks at you funny. I actually had this conversation with a fellow teacher after laughing when she’d sent a kid to the office because he kept forgetting to bring a pencil to class. Teacher: “Oh, and what would YOU have done?” Me: “Uh, give him a pencil.” See, you can buy a box of 72 pencils for $5.99. Hell, give the kid a pencil every day. He’s winning the battle otherwise. It ain’t Rocket Science, folks.
  8. Trust your students. I always believed that, with students, to receive trust you have to give it first. I used to pick the so-called “bad” kid early in the year to perform some task that required some level of trust, like maybe taking the lunch money to the office or something. The point is, when the kid performed said task without hightailing it to parts unknown you’d built a level of trust. Sure, if he failed miserably you dealt with it but if he met your expectations you had something to build on. In addition, listen to your students. Ask them what’s working and what they like and dislike about how you’re teaching. They’ll tell you the truth.
  9. Treat your co-workers with respect. In particular custodians and secretaries. They know what’s going on in and around the school. You can learn a lot from them. Learn every name in the building and call them by name. In addition, these folks can get things done for you when many others cannot. I always assigned different “trash ninjas” to pick up at the end of the day. I’d yell “trash ninjas!” and they’d leap and bound around the room gathering up random pencils, paper and whatnot. Fun but efficient, and the custodians will love you for it. And secretaries can take care of you and help you out more than you could ever imagine. Trust me on that one.
  10. Teach beyond the test. I know, you’re supposed to be teaching directly to the test. Screw that. There are going to be times when you have one of those “teaching moments” where every kid in the room is focused on you and what you’re saying, and it may have absolutely nothing to do with your Course of Study or Content Standards. Take advantage of that focus and go with it. The state has been trying to take creativity out of the classroom for years. Keep fighting the good fight. Don’t let ’em do it.
  11. If you don’t enjoy teaching, please do something else. Listen, I’m not mad at ya if you don’t like teaching, but this isn’t a regular job we’re talking about here. I mean, you can hate your job selling Veg-O-Matics and the only person who’ll suffer from it is Ron Popeil (I know, that’s sort of an obscure reference but if you don’t get it search it up on The Goggle). My point is that, as a teacher, you’re affecting a lot of young minds and attitudes. Don’t let your unhappiness with the vocation you chose carry over to the classroom. And don’t bitch about your job. Believe me, there are a lot of people who would love to work 8:00 AM-3:00 PM with weekends, holidays and summers off. Don’t be one of those teachers who breed resentment among those who aren’t lucky enough to do what you do.

So there ya go. And remember, I don’t claim to have all the answers. Lord knows I screwed up as much as anybody. But remember this, new teachers – you’re going to want to quit about 17-times during your first year.

Don’t do it.

Trust me, it’ll all be worth it. Every time a former student comes up to you on the street and mentions something you told them years ago, something that may have seemed small to you at the time but obviously had a lasting impact, something that left an indelible and positive mark on a kid, well, it makes it all worthwhile.

Have a great year.

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Comments
  1. Joe says:

    Those are good. As I’m sure you know, those are good tips and reminders for coaching, as well.

  2. InMyHead says:

    I’m sure this question is going to sound crazy, but what the hell. I’ve been thinking A LOT lately about teaching. I have my reservations because of the “what if’s”. What if I don’t like it? What if I’m not good at it? Blah, blah, blah. Anyway, so I could be sure before I waste another 2 years in school and add to my mountain of school loans, could I job shadow? I would like the opportunity to be involved in the classroom for a short while to KNOW if this is the path for me. Any advice is greatly appreciated!

  3. Bobby Do says:

    Well said, Shoe. Of course, people are going to be wondering why they wasted money on that 3rd year of college: they could have just read these in 10 minutes.

  4. Brenda Miele says:

    I loved your comments. After 35 years, I can still say, it was the best job ever! But, if you don’t really love this job, do everyone a favor, and get out now!

  5. Jet Jones says:

    Well said Ooosh! Jet Jones

  6. Peggy K says:

    Amen, Brenda! Those that hate it and stay make themselves,the students and everyone around them miserable!! and give teachers a bad name. After 35 years, I’m looking forward to retirement but missing teaching and that “school feeling” this time of year, getting the room ready, getting new ideas put in place, etc……

Gimme a holler.

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