I’m fixin’ to start my seventh year as a professional educator and I’m at that point in the summer where we’re only a couple weeks from starting school again so my brain has officially began wandering towards the upcoming year. I try not to think about school until the time comes for it to be necessary, but I can’t help it, especially after last night when I had a conversation with a colleague.
As a result of this conversation, I’ve created a Top Ten list of advice for teachers who are brand new or relatively new to the profession. Or just want some wisdom! These are not ranked in any specific order, just what I’ve learned from experience.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. There are many wise coworkers out there who have some great ideas and strategies. Seek the counsel of a veteran educator!
- Read professional books! It’s important to keep up its best practices and what research says. Don’t you want the best for your students? Having students copy down 40 words and definitions on Monday and giving a quiz on Friday is a no-no. Use the resources available to you but don’t feel like you have to read the book cover to cover… Skim through it and find what’s most helpful to you and what you’re looking for.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Don’t be around people who are always talking negatively about other teachers, the district, administration, students, etc. They are a poison and before long you too will be sucked into it.
- Relax and don’t forget about you. It’s easy as a teacher to spend countless hours on the weekends and evenings cooped up in your classroom. If you want your students to get the best, it’s important that you’re at YOUR best: mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
- Take advantage of your plan time! I get it, sometimes you just need tostep back and want a break and do nothing but hang out and talk with your fellow coworkers when plan time rolls around. But is it worth it when you’re stressing out later about not being prepared or unsure what to do? I was a victim of that my first couple years of teaching and I’ve learned to use my plan time wisely. The first 10-15 minutes is for me to chill. Then after that I have a specific regimen that I stole from a former coworker: Check and respond to emails. Get things ready for the next day. Grade. Do my lesson plans for the next week.
- Be consistent with discipline. Stop making threats and actually commit. Follow-through is so vital. If you just let things continue to slide, that’s going to continue to make teaching the content and every valuable minute of it harder and harder. Your expectations should be clear. In my classroom I have a poster on the wall that shows the levels of consequences. (Name on Board = Warning, 1 Check = Detention, 2 Checks = Parent Contact). If you set the tone in the classroom, the students will follow! (Beware: Some students will take longer to catch on than others!)
- Get to know your students. Be personable. Obviously there’s a professional boundary here. Go to their games. Talk to them in the hallway. Ask them about their other classes, ask them how they’re doing! If a student sees YOU care, they’ll care. And that will trickle into their performance in your room. They’ll want to please you and do their best.
- Be a likable teacher. I don’t care what’s been said in the past, if a student likes you, they’ll work for you. You don’t have to be the “cool” teacher. I’ve seen that happen and ya, you might be “cool” but…are they learning? Is your classroom controlled? You have to find a good balance between being fun and being serious.
- Make friends with the secretarial staff. The people in the front office are the glue that holds the school together, so make sure you’re on their good side and honor and respect them. They do a lot of behind the scenes stuff that we don’t see.
- Don’t compare yourself to other teachers. Everyone grows at their own pace and learns differently, even as teachers. Set goals for the upcoming year. For example,my goal two years ago was to do my lesson plans every single day. My goal this past year was to be better at putting grades in. This year, it’s a big goal: to not have to work on my lesson plans at all on the weekends! (Which means I’ll really have to take advantage of my plan time!). Don’t compare yourself to others, compare yourself to how you were the previous year (or during student teaching if you’re new.). At the end of the year you should be able to look back and say, “Man, I was a better teacher this year than I was last year!”
Above all, have a great year. You’re going to mess up, that’s okay. Just try to fix it before it’s too late. Have fun! If you have fun teaching, your students will have fun learning. And don’t forget why you got into teaching in the first place. 🙂