Over the years, I have been asked numerous times for advice or tips I would offer new teachers or veteran teachers. I always respond by saying the little I know is the result of professional reading (at least thirty minutes daily) and mistakes I made as a teacher and a school administrator. I think the biggest mistake most teachers make is looking for perfection. This mistake can cost them their joy as a teacher. It causes them to lose sight of what teaching is about and why they signed on to teach in the first place. Sometimes teachers become so blinded by the pursuit of perfection, they lose sight of the good they do, and as a consequence they drum themselves out of the profession. No matter how badly they want it, there is no such thing as the perfect student, the perfect parent, or the perfect teacher, so my advice to teachers is to STOP looking for perfection, and replace it with an expectation of always “putting forth the best you can do.” That is the highest expectation, teachers can ever hope to achieve from their students; it is the highest expectation they can ever expect of themselves. Next, I would advise teachers to MAKE TEACHING A COMMITMENT: commitment to the teaching journey, commitment to learning from mistakes, commitment to professional learning, and commitment to NEVER giving up on students or themselves. After that, I would offer the following advice and tips:
- You WILL make mistakes – learn not to repeat them – learn to apologize and move on! Making a mistake is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign you are not sitting still;
- It’s okay to have fun! Good teachers figure out how to make learning fun!
- Use handouts as a teaching tool, not a “keep them busy” tool. Remember, teachers teach and subs give handouts! Which are you?
- Use pre-test to assess your student’s existing knowledge. Pre-assessments will help you make your teaching more relevant and their learning more meaningful;
- Communicate with parents often! Nothing can be more unsettling to a teacher’s day than a surprised or angry parent who has been kept in the dark about their child’s progress;
- Greet students at the door like you are happy to see them – not like they are the plague;
- Be on time for duty! The safety of students and your career is on the line. Monitoring duty in the cafeteria, in the hall between classes, before school, or after school is a necessity! It is not a useless punishment your uncaring principal has placed on you;
- Make note of teachers who always complain and are unhappy – be nice to them, but stay away, unless you want to be like them;
- Be proud to be a teacher! You have the most important job in the world. You influence young lives every day, so decide every morning if it will be a positive influence or a negative influence;
- Assign seats! Especially until you get to know your students. Assigning seats also makes it easier and faster to take roll;
- If you do not plan to discuss and review homework in class the next day, DO NOT assign homework! Homework is only effective if it is used as a formative tool with timely feedback to students;
- DO NOT assign work in class that will not be discussed, reviewed, or graded. Like the teacher, students DO NOT need busy work;
- Never make an online assignment without first checking the websites, including links to other websites. Ask these questions – Is it active? Like most everything, websites do not last forever. Is it blocked by the school filter? If blocked, seek help from the school technology person to unblock it. Is it appropriate? Make sure the content is appropriate for the student age level you teach as well as for the community the school serves;
- Always, always, always preview movies to be shown in class. Movies should be used sparingly in class and then only in small clips to support discussion of the lesson. Showing a movie that takes up one to three days of class time is poor practice and a waste of instructional time. Showing a movie in its entirety is lazy teaching;
- If you assign a book or website that may be controversial to students, their families, or the community do the following: (1) meet with the principal and seek his/her support by explaining why you have chosen the material and its value to the learning process; (2) Send home a notice to parents/guardians that some content may be offensive and explain why you believe it is necessary to use the material in class; (3) offer an alternative assignment for students and/or parents who object to the content (use of offensive language, use of graphic sex, etc.);
- Never argue with a student in class! You are the authority in the classroom! If a student wants to challenge authority let him/her challenge the authority of the assistant principal or the principal;
- Teaching for student success:
- Pre-assess (pre-test) knowledge;
- Provide students learning targets based on pre-assessment needs;
- Teach what you want them to know;
- Use on-going assessment (formative) throughout the lesson. Check frequently for understanding;
- STOP and re-teach if and when necessary;
- Assess what you want them to know (summative);
- Use summative assessment as a formative tool (feedback) for student learning; and
- Re-teach if and when necessary.
- Being a TEACHER is NOT about teaching; it is about LEARNING! You may be the greatest presenter of content of all time, but if your students don’t learn, you have failed as a teacher;
- Remember, it’s okay to breathe! Teaching is a monstrous responsibility, but if you teach with the same passion and compassion you expect from your children’s teachers, you will be okay; and
- Enjoy the teaching journey! You are a part of an awesome group of people. You are a teacher because you care.
These tips are basic, but if followed, they can serve the new teacher or the veteran teacher well. Teachers must always maintain high expectations, accept nothing but the best from their students, and never give up on the least of them or themselves. A tall order, no doubt, but kids will tell you – GOOD TEACHERS CAN DO ANYTHING!
©Jack Linton, August 24, 2016