Back to School Advice for Teachers

A new school year is about to start, and many teachers have already been working – without pay I might add – to prepare their classrooms for the first day of school. Everything in their rooms will be perfect in anticipation of the arrival of new faces, new personalities, and new dreams. During those first days of school, teachers will lay a foundation filled with rules and routines for students to follow. Most students will listen closely and try their best to stay within the rules and routines, but a few will be hard-headed and insist on doing things their way, which will result in a long tedious year for them, their parents, and their teachers.

Sometimes adults (teachers) can be just as pig-headed. There are basic rules of conduct and strategies teachers can and should follow to ensure a great school year, but sometimes teachers choose to ignore them or, more likely, they are not aware of them. Where advice to students is usually matter-of-fact and rule based with little latitude for student interpretation, advice to teachers is generally optional and wide open to teacher interpretation. They can take it or leave it, or they can twist it in any way they so choose. While most teachers are eager to get as much help or advice as possible, especially if it will help them have a smooth running school year, there are a few who will heed no one’s advice except maybe their own. To them I say good luck, and to those teachers who would never turn a deaf ear to tips or advice, I recommend they look carefully at the following advice in this article. Some of this advice I learned by being pig-headed and learning the hard way, but the majority of it I learned through the kindness of colleagues who felt sorry enough for me to share. The first survival lesson any teacher should learn is to never be afraid or too proud to steal an idea, tip, or piece of advice that could have a positive and productive impact on their students and their careers. Therefore, I hope teachers read this blog and find something they can use to make their life as a teacher a little brighter and easier.

Back to School Advice for Teachers:

Kids – without them teachers do not have a job!

  • DON’T ever, ever, ever, put down a child, use sarcasm with a child or think less of a child because of his family background or previous history. Every student deserves to start the school year with a clean slate. When it comes to kids, parents send teachers the best they have to offer; they send the talented, the untalented, the smart, the not so smart, the even tempered, the hell-on-wheels, the cute and cuddly, the dirty behind the ears, the angels, and the mean as a snake.  They send the well cared for, the neglected, the well-adjusted, and the abused. Each time a parent sends a child to school, they pray the child will find a teacher who will ignite a spark or a fire that will give their child a chance for a brighter future;
  • DON’T expect kids to know what to do and how to behave! TEACH them your expectations, classroom rules, and routines beginning day one. DON’T just post rules in the classroom or go over expectations and routines one or two times. During the first couple of weeks take time to practice ROUTINES and reinforce EXPECTATIONS. PRACTICE what you preach!

Classroom Instruction – the teacher’s core work!

  • DON’T allow idle time such as allowing kids to talk quietly the last few minutes of class.       There is no such thing as TALKING QUIETLY – even adults cannot talk quietly for more than about forty-five seconds, so how can kids be expected to do so? DON’T waste your time reminding them to talk quietly over and over or waste their instructional time by permitting such a wasteful practice. Teaching BELL to BELL is more productive and less stressful!
  • DON’T expect kids to “sit and git.” School is not about teaching; it is about LEARNING! A teacher can be smart, prepared and do a great job of presenting the content material, but if the kids are not learning the material, the teacher has only done half the job. Teaching is the easy part. The difficult part – the part that separates real teachers from “hams on the stage” – is doing whatever it takes to ensure kids learn.  Teaching is about kids learning; it is not about delivering a lesson!
  • DON’T be a SQUATTER – be a TEACHER!   Teachers should be up moving around the classroom actively engaged with the students, and not sitting behind their desks.  This is an absolute must for middle school and high school teachers. At these levels, it is extremely rare to find a teacher who can effectively manage the classroom as well as teach from behind the teacher’s desk.  For elementary school teachers, there are times when the teacher must work with students one-on-one at the teacher’s desk. For this reason as well as many others, teacher assistants are crucial in elementary classrooms. Unfortunately, teacher assistants are luxuries that many schools can no longer afford due to budget cuts from lack of state education funding. [NOTE: In states that are serious about education, all elementary classes should have assistant teachers. Although I am a supporter of pre-k education, I believe it would actually be wiser and more beneficial to spend funds needed for pre-k education on assistant teachers in grades K-4 if having both is not feasible].
  • DON’T be a weenie; establish clear classroom rules and consequences and enforce them consistently! WARNING!  Do not hand out warnings freely!  Multiple warnings only serve to dilute the teacher’s authority in the classroom. If the teacher is more likely to give a warning than enforce rules and consequences for unacceptable behavior, the teacher should get rid of the rules and consequences and turn the class and their paycheck over to the students!
  • DON’T give homework unless it is necessary and even then make sure it is not just busy work!   If the homework assignment is not worth the teacher’s time to check or grade it the next day, throw the assignment out; it is not necessary! For homework assignments to be effective, feedback must be provided by the teacher.  Simple homework rule: NO FEEDBACK equals NO HOMEWORK!

Teacher to Teacher relationships – don’t alienate your biggest fans!

  • DON’T sabotage your relationships with other TEACHERS! The surest way to destroy relationships as well as destroy credibility is to engage in gossip about colleagues;
  • DON’T make remarks about other teachers and their teaching! Such remarks will come back and bite you when you least expect it. Do not ever make comments about another teacher in front of students that will make students think less of that teacher;

Teacher/Parent relationships – communication and excuses do not mix!

  • DON’T fail to communicate with parents regularly. A personal call to parents with positive news about their child’s progress will go a long way in making the parents believe you are the best teacher ever! Failure to communicate with parents by phone periodically sends a message to some parents that you don’t care. If you truly do not have time to call, then email parents, and make sure they have your email address as well;
  • DON’T make excuses in a parent/teacher conference about why you have not communicated a child’s lack of progress or failing grades. NEVER tell parents how busy you are or that you teach too many kids to communicate with all parents regularly! First, parents resent such excuses as being unprofessional and disingenuous.  Second, they could care less about the teacher communicating with other parents; the only child of any importance to them is their child. Third, parents are busy too, and in their eyes if the teacher would do his/her job and communicate with them regularly, their child would not be failing, which would mean the parent/teacher conference that has taken them away from their job and cost them money would not be necessary. Although parents should be expected to stay on top of their child’s grades that does not always happen. Teachers on the other hand are professionals and staying on top of grades and communicating with parents is their professional responsibility. It is one of the things teachers get paid to do. Face it, if parents hear their child is failing for the first time in a parent/teacher conference, or they find out the last week or two of the grade term, the teacher screwed up! In such a situation, about the only thing the teacher and principal can do is acknowledge the mess up, apologize, and give assurances it will not happen again; and
  • DON’T go into a parent/teacher conference expecting the worse; you are liable to get it!       Most teachers do not enjoy parent/teacher conferences, but by approaching the meeting positively, keeping the focus of the meeting on the student and off the adults and having documentation to support the student’s progress or lack of progress, these conferences can be productive for students, parents, and teachers. If the teacher suspects the conference may get heated, the teacher should request the meeting be held in the presence of a school administrator. Teachers should never go into a conference expecting to have their say and then leave without giving the parent a chance to speak. Conferences should not be allowed to become a debate, but two-way communication is a must. In fact, if the parents requested the meeting, it is always best to let them open the conference with their concerns. By letting the parents vent (without interruption), the parents are able to blow off a lot of pent up frustration, which helps to defuse the situation. When the parents have had their say, the teacher should acknowledge their frustration, but refrain from arguing or becoming defensive. Being defensive and arguing with upset or angry parents will not resolve anything! The teacher should use the documentation brought to the meeting to make points while being careful not to give their opinion or make judgements – the teacher should stick to the facts. At all times, the teacher should remain calm, and if the meeting becomes heated, the meeting should be turned over to the school administrator to bring it to a close.

Using these suggestions or strategies should increase any teacher’s chances for a successful school year, but unfortunately, there are no guarantees. However, over the years, this advice has proven time and time again to be effective in laying a strong foundation for a successful school year. I sincerely hope this advice proves useful to teachers once again this school year.

Have a great school year!

JL

©Jack Linton, July 27, 2015

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