At the conclusion of 10 years of teaching, I started to reminisce about what I have learned. This article summarizes 10 lessons I have learned in 10 years of teaching.
After having successfully completed my tenth year as a professional educator, I have come to realize that a lot of what I used to think worked didn’t really work…at least not long-term. While some things may be effective in the immediate future, they are not sustainable down the road, and sometimes even backfire if used to often and too early.
1. Love your job and your students
No matter how hard you try to pretend you love your job, if you don’t, the kids will see right through you. Students feed off of the energy that the teacher gives off in the classroom. If you love your job, they will know it. If you hate your job, they will know it.If you want to know what the general consensus of your students is about anything, you can probably ask them and they will tell you. Younger students especially have no filter installed. Sometimes you don’t want the answer, but it’s always revealing.
HINT: Here are 50 reasons to get you started.
2. Work tirelessly while at work, but leave work at work
I remember years when I used to take a briefcase home from work only to leave it in my truck and take it back the next day. Eventually I realized this wasn’t going anywhere, so I just stopped taking stuff home. And guess what? I still am as effective, if not more so, as I ever have been. When I work, I do it at work. When I conduct personal matters, I am not at work.Are there occasions when I must do a little bit of work at home? Sure, occasionally. But generally if I need to do school work, I go up there and get it done. Give it a try and see if your stress level doesn’t go down once you realize that it’s okay to leave some paperwork undone until a later day.BONUS:Here are three articles to get you started:
3. Be kind to every student
This skill was tremendously difficult for me to learn, because I am so prideful that I like to “show them right” or let karma have its way or whatever. But instead, I have grown to where I try to reach out and like every student who walks through my doors every day. It will pay off in the future.
4. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
This is one of Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It goes something like this: If you are nice to other people and give them the benefit of the doubt, that they will be able to trust you and let you take care of their learning. Their respect for you will also grow, and you will have far less discipline issues.
5. Wait a little bit longer
This applies in so many areas. Of primary concern here is that one of the biggest issues many young educators encounter is that they have a difficulty with “pacing” their lessons. Three key elements of this have to do with how quickly they move through the material, how much silence they have while they are teaching, and how quickly they speak.As long as you know where you are going with the lesson, the issue is usually not that they are moving too slowly and therefore allowing discipline issues to crop up. On the contrary, younger teachers often move too quickly, don’t allow enough “mental breathing room” for the students so that what the teacher just said has a chance to set in. I have observed this to be particularly a problem for students younger than 8th grade. Slow down your speaking, overpronounce the words, and wait a little bit longer than is comfortable. Try it and see what happens!
6. Delayed obedience is…obedience
One of my greatest challenges is when I tell a student to do something and they don’t do it right away. Too often I have told students to stop talking and they finish their sentence before they stop. I am confronted with a choice. I can either thank the students for being quiet, or I can complain about the slowness of their response. In my younger days (and occasionally even now), I would go with the second choice. But….Which of these two options will better facilitate learning in the classroom?
7. You can never be too prepared
Bring too many extra reeds to marching contest. Overplan your lesson. Make too many copies for the substitute. Alert your principal about a potential upcoming parent conference. Call transportation to confirm the buses for the field trip one more time.After all, would you rather save money now or have some extra toilet paper later?
8. Expect the unexpected
Fire drills. A student coming in after missing a test in my class with a note explaining that she was finishing up a test in her math class. Even sixth graders wet their pants sometimes. Bus tires don’t always stay inflated. “I can’t go to the concert because my parents bought tickets to see the Star Warspremier that night.” “You can’t have a concert in the cafeteria that night because of a conflict…how about the Friday before Memorial Day?” “I can’t go to the concert the Friday before Memorial Day because my family is going out of town because my uncle’s neighbor is having surgery on Saturday afternoon.” “I need a new marching uniform because I was only four weeks pregnant when we got sized back in August.” “We’re pulled over on the side of the highway because the bus drivers don’t know how to get to the stadium.” “I know contest is tomorrow, but I got my braces off today! See how straight my teeth are?”Yes, all of these have happened to me.
9. Some fires are not worth putting out
When kids fight, the fight ends soon enough. Why risk injury just to be the teacher who broke up all the fun? Some parents just complain so they can hear themselves complain. And there’s nothing wrong with letting them have their time. After they finish, thank them and let them know that if there’s anything else you can help them with, they are more than welcome to stop by any time. Who knows? You might gain an avid supporter that way.On a side note, if the fire is not put out, be sure it is a controlled burn. Watch to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. If it appears to be to that point, stomp it out as soon as possible, lest it spread too far and too fast.
10. Your body is too precious to neglect
Watch what you eat and exercise 30 minutes a day. No school district is worth you sacrificing your health and longevity over.
So there we go. Leave some of what you have learned in the comment section below!