60 Very Practical Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Teaching

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While I’ve had my ups and downs over the years as a teacher, my first two years were extremely challenging. Many of these pitfalls were avoidable. If I were going into a middle school band class as a first year teacher today, knowing what I know now, I would approach things differently. Here is an unsorted list that I have brainstormed of things I would like to have known before the first day of school.

  1. Begin class on time, every time
  2. Even though attendance is computerized, come up with a simple written system of checking role and do it consistently
  3. Run through each class period in your mind and take notes of questions you have; address those before the first day
  4. The more procedures you develop, the easier your life will be
  5. Use “we” way more than normal to get better results; consider the following

    I need you to stop doing that!
    That’s not how we do things here!
    Don’t do that!
  6. Kids complain about structure and rules
  7. Kids test the limits of structure and rules
  8. Kids need structure and rules
  9. 90% of the discipline issues involve 10% of the students
  10. When behavior problems begin to show themselves, address the student privately to work out a plan to prevent them from escalating
  11. Stay in control of your reactions
  12. Study body language
  13. Move slowly
  14. Ask yourself why questions constantly
  15. Realize that with behavior of other people, why questions sometimes never have understandable answers
  16. Realize that with behavior of yourself, why questions always have understandable answers, but often not ones you want to understand
  17. Return phone calls
  18. Reply to personal emails
  19. When the office asks for volunteers to sponsor the yearbook and you reply asking for further details, do not be surprised when boxes of student pictures and glossy yearbook brochures begin showing up in your room
  20. It is often easy to learn 90% of the names very quickly, work hard to learn the last 10% so you don’t get to Christmas still confusing the two quiet boys in the back
  21. When teaching new concepts, drill the concept to about 80% mastery and move on
  22. When teaching new concepts, revisit the new concept frequently
  23. Teach something new every single day
  24. Begin each day where you are, not where you feel you should be
  25. Recognize progress
  26. Recognize effort
  27. “High expectations are the key to everything.” — Sam Walton
  28. Nobody cares what you know unless they know that you care
  29. Sometimes we make the right decisions, other times we make our decisions right
  30. Ask questions that students can successfully answer
  31. Ask deep questions
  32. When students don’t answer a question, guide them to the answer instead of just answering it flat out
  33. Silence and calm body language will often get the right answer out of someone
  34. Getting paid more does no good if you spend it all
  35. Drive a used car
  36. If you couldn’t afford it before the paycheck, you can’t afford it after
  37. Things don’t always go according to plan, and that’s okay
  38. Even the best teachers have bad days from time to time
  39. An unannounced fire drill might happen on the last day of the school year
  40. When the superintendent, district curriculum director, and your principal walk in unannounced to a class of 50 7th grade mostly boys on the last day of a four-day week five minutes after returning from a fire drill, you better be teaching
  41. Encouragement is way more motivating than “motivation” or catchy sayings
  42. The more time you spend planning, the easier your life will be
  43. Share your struggles privately
  44. Share your successes
  45. Surround yourself with positive people
  46. If you have a problem with someone, address it to them directly
  47. Avoid gossip
  48. Talk about teaching rather than gossiping about students
  49. Stay in contact with college friends
  50. Keep a running list of questions/problems you encounter about teaching and ask other teachers when you get a chance
  51. “Not bad” sounds like “not good” to some students
  52. Don’t assign detention unless it fits your schedule
  53. Make audio recordings of your classes from time to time and take notes of what you hear
  54. Observe other teachers teaching as often as you can
  55. Exercise
  56. Plan out the year beforehand so you know where you’re going and know where the benchmarks are
  57. Blog through your difficulties
  58. Don’t complain
  59. Don’t compare yourself to others
  60. Don’t compare your students to others
About Joel Wagner 522 Articles
Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

2 Comments on 60 Very Practical Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Teaching

  1. I love this article Joel, it gives sound advice on what one should know in the pursuit of a teaching career. Is it possible for me to post this article on my site.

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