I’m not remotely a “veteran teacher” yet, but as I start off on year 7 of teaching, I have a few kernels of wisdom to pass along for those of you who find yourself becoming teachers. Or to those of you who need a refresher.
1- Most Importantly: Enjoy it!
Enjoy what you are teaching, because then your students will enjoy it more, too. You probably already know that, but it bears repeating.
2- Second advice nugget (or maybe it’s part B of that last one): Even (and maybe especially) the kid that drives you INSANE needs some positive encouragement.
So, Enjoy your students. Try your best to find something to like/appreciate about each kid, because not only will help you be more patient with them, it is vitally important for them. Maybe the most important thing they’ll get out of your class.
3- Remember: Good Teaching is hard work.
So: work hard, but remember to use your resources (books/curriculum, coworkers, the internet, teacherspayteachers, etc) and not to stress yourself out too much over a failed activity or a bad day. Just strive to be better the next time.
4- Don’t let it go to your head: RESPECT your students – You are in a position of authority . . . so don’t be an asshole.
The worst teachers are the kind who abuse their authority to demean or belittle their students or perpetuate negativity. Don’t be that teacher. And if you have a bad day, which you are entitled to do because you are (contrary to popular belief) human, be up front about it. Tell your students “Hey, sorry guys, I’m having a rough day and I’m a little short on patience right now” – they deserve fair warning.
Also, if you (also because you are human) are a jerk and speak unkindly to a student or a class, apologize. You are not above apologies just because you are a teacher. Pull a kid aside and apologize to them 1:1 if you were rude to just them. Or, you know: Humble yourself and apologize to a whole class if you have to. Don’t let your role as a teacher absorb the nastiness that comes out of all human beings sometime and poison your classroom.
5- Fact: Your attitude sets the mood in your classroom.
Don’t underestimate this power. Wield it carefully, responsibly, and intentionally. If you can, set the mood firmly at JOY and go from there.
6- I totally understand that it isn’t possible 100% of the time, but: Explain your reasoning for what you are doing in class!
Sometimes teachers give a directive that seems pretty pointless, but actually has a lot of purpose. Explaining the purpose of an activity can change the way a student views it/participates in it. I mean, you might know why you’re doing something, as a teacher, but the students might be sitting their like “wtf, this is dumb” unless you explain the actual reasons, at least from time to time! Now, whether it will actually help change students attitudes regarding classwork is also up to the student, but I think (sadly) teachers are prone to generally underestimate students’ intelligence – Give them the benefit of the doubt and help them see the why behind the what of the things that go down in your classroom.
7- Tip: Behave as if you are the only adult role model kids might have, because you might be.
Hopefully, God willing, your students are from loving families that take good care of them and love them and help them grow up into responsible and healthy adults . . . but that is not even usually the case. Everybody needs stable role models – people to emulate. You might not feel confident about being that person, but you are in a position of visibility that makes it inevitable that people will look at the way you act/live your life. Please live accordingly.
8- Seriously: Don’t be afraid to have a good time in your classroom.
LAUGH at things. We’re talking BELLY laugh. If somebody says something funny (and I do NOT mean unintentionally) then give yourself the freedom to bust out laughing at it! Laugh at yourself liberally. You are going to do ridiculous things as a teacher, and somebody might as well enjoy them!
9- Verbalize: Say the Good stuff.
If someone does a great job on something: tell them. If you like a student’s idea, tell them. If you think a doodle on a quiz is awesome: TELL THEM. Notice the good stuff, and do it out loud. I still remember some of the little comments that teachers said to me that made all the difference, even in something so little as noticing/complimenting my perfume. I also remember the bad ones just as clearly. . . so be cautious when you say the not-good stuff.
10- It might sound silly, but: Smell Good.
By “good”, I mean clean and pleasant. No need to drench yourself in perfume or cologne. Also: Morning breath, coffee breath, days without deodorant? Don’t let these happen to your students. They deserve better.
11 – It’s Time to Come to Grips: Accept the fact that you ARE indeed a nerd.
You are a teacher. You became a teacher. You teach. THUS, you are a nerd. And not just a little bit. You are a huge nerd. Stop apologizing. Embrace it. Own it. Be happy.
12 –I promise this is the last one, I wasn’t even going to write this many, but I have to in case anybody reads it: CARE
Just because a kid looks like they are doing okay on the outside doesn’t mean they are okay. Never type-cast your students as “lazy”, “slow”, “troublemakers” or “problem-children”. They are far, far, far more complex than some oversimplified label you might give them. You don’t know their whole story, and quite frankly: they don’t know you well enough to give it to you just because you’re their teacher. So, even if it’s hard, even if you’re sick of an attitude or behavior (which I do understand is rough – students sometimes act like you’re not human, and that’s tough to take in and not eventually dish back) please strive to AUTHENTICALLY care.
Offer to help a confused student. Or, if you can tell one student is having a hard time but know that they might be embarrassed to ask for help, find a creative way to help them out. Be understanding (careful, don’t hear what I’m not saying: this doesn’t mean be a pushover/giving up on all standards). Take a minute to express your sadness and empathize if a student shares that their pet died. Keep granola bars in your desk, in case somebody doesn’t have a lunch or missed out on breakfast. Ask if somebody is okay if they seem a little off – even if it’s just by writing them a note on a post-it and subtly sticking it on their desk. Just: be kind.