Members of the Education World Teacher Team offer their best advice to new teachers -- and to veteran teachers too!
We asked members of the Education World Teacher Team "If you could give a brand new teacher just one piece of advice, what would it be?" This is what they told us.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from a veteran teacher when I first started teaching seventh and eighth grade. It is still part of my philosophy. He said, "If you're in a confrontation with an unruly or defiant student, give that student a choice. Don't back the student into a corner, with no choice but to fight back. Even if the consequences of the choices aren't to the student's liking, you still have given the student a chance for a way out of a confrontational situation."
When I first started teaching, I asked for advice from a veteran teacher. She replied "Don't smile the first semester." I was taken aback to say the least, but after much musing, I realized she had given me most valuable advice. Establish your routine right from the beginning, laying down your ground rules for class structure and conduct, as well as for what you expect from your students learning-wise. Be consistent in applying behavioral standards. You can lighten up later on, but to paraphrase a well-known author, you can't tighten up. Another way to make your life easier is to make sure you know the custodial staff and school secretary. They are the backbone of the school and often don't receive enough credit. Make sure to acknowledge them and all your colleagues, because you do not teach in isolation.
My best piece of advice is to communicate with parents as often as possible. That's especially important at the secondary level, when parent interest and support begin to wane. I have e-mail addresses for as many parents (and students) as possible and send out general interest e-mails at least once a week. I send out progress reports every two weeks, give studying tips, and tips about Web sites where the students can go to practice what we're doing in class, and so on. This year, I'm starting a newsletter, so I can praise what students do in -- and especially out of -- class. I'll include such things as awards, volunteering, teams that they participate in, and so on. Also included will be a recapitulation of Web sites, as well as tips to help parents help their students in my subject area (world languages). I've found over the years that parents want to be kept abreast of what their child is doing in class, not just how he or she is doing academically. That saves a lot of time at grading time because they already know where their child stands.
A valuable piece of advice I once was given at a new school was to make sure I ate lunch in the teacher's room or staff cafeteria where teachers congregate. The time spent informally gave me a chance to get the heartbeat of the school from staff who were on a break and likely to be conversational about life in general. It also put me in a place to see and be seen as a part of the school, and maybe a future team player. I always found ideas, support, and connections that I wouldn't have found if I'd eaten in my classroom or skipped lunch to catch up on work.
If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to concentrate on designing a management strategy to allow for differentiation in the classroom. I am trying something new this year called "The Daily 5." It's from a book of the same name by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. The Daily 5 are: Read to Yourself, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, and Word Work. The book clearly illustrates a process for teaching children of any age how to be self-sufficient with those five elements during quiet working times, allowing the teacher to work with small groups. It shows how to manage whole-class instruction as well. Best of all, the Daily 5 can be implemented at any time, not just at the beginning of the school year. I wish I'd had this book when I started teaching 19 years ago. I can finally manage a reading/language arts block in which I differentiate for all abilities and give personal attention to each and every student.
The bottom line in every situation has to be: What is best for this student? In your first year of teaching, you inevitably will have conflict. You will be given confusing messages from administrators, colleagues, and parents. You will have incidents that keep you awake at night, wondering what to do. It really helps to bear in mind that your ultimate responsibility is always to your students.
It will be tempting, occasionally, to try to "win"-- to outfox the pushy parent, to crush the mouthy student, to sit in the teachers' lounge and place blame. Becoming a teacher, however, means accepting full responsibility for teaching every child and listening respectfully to parents. We live in a competitive world, but doing the right thing for individual kids often means putting aside your need to be in control or come out ahead. School in not about the grownups -- it's about the kids.
As a instructor of preservice teachers, it's hard to nail it down to just one piece of advice -- there are so many things I tell my students from my experiences. But one mistake I often see new teachers make is to try to run a popularity contest with their students.
Of course, everyone likes to be liked. But new teachers need to remember they are now the teachers and should earn and demand respect. They need to realize that some students will like them -- and some will dislike them just because they are teachers. I often have seen new teachers "sell their souls" at the altar of popularity -- to the demise of their integrity and their career. Be a teacher; don't be a student. Those days are past. Sometimes kids need to hear the hard things in life. Like "get your rear in gear and get to school so I can teach you." That message won't always make you the most popular person. Guy Doud, Teacher of the Year in1986, and one of my role models, says "we teach kids, not subjects." Remember you are the teacher; they are the students. BE A TEACHER.
Just one piece of advice is really hard. One thing I tell most new LMS and teachers is to make friends with the secretary and custodian. Those are two people in a school who can help make your life a lot easier. Without them on your side you might be lost.
Another piece of advice is to get a mentor. If the school or district doesn't give you one, try to find one on your own. Ask another teacher at your grade level, or ask the principal to suggest someone.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. If the staff doesn't have a lot of turnover, people tend to forget what the new person doesn't know. They don't mean to leave you out, but they often forget that you were never told. If you don't understand something -- ask.
It's important to work and give a lot of hours to school, but don't let work run your entire life. Do take some time for yourself. Some good suggestions are to exercise, walk, continue a hobby, read, and so on. Something to help relieve the stress. You don't want to get burned out the first year.
Be on time or early in the morning and stay after the required time in the evening. People do notice who comes running in at the last minute and leaves as soon as the clock strikes at the end of the day. That doesn't mean you need to arrive hours early or stay all night, but show that you are dedicated and that you care.
Your kids will come in at the beginning of the year docile and polite. Take heed; that is the "Honeymoon Period." There will come a day soon when they will test you to see how much you care. They will test you to see how much you know. They will test you to see how consistent you are. They will test you to test you.
Be patient, be caring, be knowledgeable -- but don't be afraid to say, "I don't know, but I will find out and get back to you." Be you.
Follow school rules even if you don't agree with all of them. If you don't agree with a rule, fight the good battle behind closed doors. Usually, you will find there is a good reason for the rule. In addition, at some point, you will need support. Following the rules will build that support.
But if you remember ONLY one thing I say, it is this: One day, soon, your students will test you. Be prepared."Carol Midgett
A close second is to follow Covey's 5th habit: "Seek first to understand and then to be understood." (That is true for every audience!)
Keep your sense of humor. Laugh at yourself and your mistakes so students feel comfortable doing the same. When students enjoy being in your class because they feel relaxed there, learning is more likely to happen.
I love this quote from Aristotle: "Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.)
I would share that quote with every brand new teacher, along with the thought that much that we do in life, whether it be good, bad, or indifferent, we do out of habit. As Aristotle points out, habits are formed. We teachers should take advantage of that fact when it comes to class management, as well as helping our students learn.
Students are not born readily accustomed to behaving in one way or another. Parents and teachers are more likely to inculcate what they consider to be appropriate behaviors in children if they expect those behaviors consistently. Consistency is what creates habit.
The pursuit of excellence can be a habit, too, which means it can be taught. Children discover how to maintain a level of excellence once they have achieved it often enough. That is why it is so important for teachers to keep the bar up, to not lower their expectations of their students. Once students get used to doing excellent work, they will more readily take pride in it and reproduce it. They will start to internalize their teachers' expectations, seeking and finding excellence in and for themselves.