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Life's Little Instruction Book for Teachers

Kimberly Johnson, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota, is a first-year English teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Kimberly and and her mentor, Laurie Stenehjem, share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks.

There were 180 days in this school year. There were many additional hours of planning, grading, envisioning, hoping, and stressing. Now all those days and hours have passed, and I am no longer a rookie teacher.

This first year was a growing and learning experience more than it was a teaching experience. As I look back on all the little things I learned along the way, I feel as though I could write a Life's Little Instruction Book for new teachers. If I did write such a book, this is what I would say:

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Do you have comments, questions, or advice for Laurie and Kim? Would you like to talk about your own experiences with mentoring? Share your thoughts on The First 180 Days: A Teacher and Her Mentor.

  • Appreciate your mentor. If you don't have a mentor, find one.
  • Make friends with specialists. They're wonderful people who want to help children, and they are invaluable resources for regular classroom teachers.
  • Make time for yourself, not only for your own sake but for the well being of your students as well. There will be no time for yourself unless you say there is.
  • Keep lots of chocolate hidden in your desk.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Stay healthy by exercising, taking vitamins, eating well, and washing your hands often.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions.
  • Be patient with the office staff. They're very busy people. Appreciate all the things -- known and unknown -- that they do for you,.
  • Work for a principal with an open-door policy.
  • When giving instructions to students, do so verbally, visually -- and more than twice.
  • Work with parents, not against them. You all want what's best for their children.
  • Look at life from your students' point-of-view.
  • Teach with your heart; manage behavior with your head.
  • Bring your pet to school, talk about your favorite sports team, laugh -- do anything you can to show students you are human too.
  • Write down everything. Your brain can hold only so much.
  • Read and write in front of your students.
  • Admit when you're wrong, learn from your mistakes, and then move on.
  • Risk taking is inevitable. You might as well enjoy it.
  • File papers in designated folders as they cross your desk. Don't throw everything in a pile and wait until later to organize it.
  • Remind yourself that you are in your first year of teaching. If someone expects you to teach as though you've been teaching 20 years, remind them as well.
  • Take all the advice people give you and store it away. You never know when you'll need good advice.
  • Be consistent with rules and classroom procedures from day one. Inconsistency confuses and angers students.
  • Go out with your colleagues and talk about anything but school.
  • Keep a journal about being a first-year teacher. Read it every once in a while after your first year so you'll always remember what those shoes feel like.

Many of these instructions probably seem obvious today, but believe me, they can be easily forgotten in the heat of the moment -- or in the chaos of a busy year.

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Kimberly Johnson
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