1. Make the curriculum your own, but don’t try to re-invent the wheel. My first few years, I had so many ideas that I started every lesson from scratch and left the crates that were passed down from the last teacher to gather dust in the corner. When I taught my English learners about science academic language, I went straight to home depot to create plaster of paris mountains with sand paper so that students could feel the words for erosion, landslides, and peaks. I made my own handouts to teach literature circles and everything else! I spent every evening and weekend creating, planning, and grading. And at the end of that wonderful year, I realized that I would never make it through a 3 year, much less 30 year career at that pace. When the next year rolled around and I was assigned to completely different grade levels, I decided to actually go through the files left behind and use them as a base. I also purchased literature guides for each of my novels. Of course I still threw in the cool inforgraphic project or socratic seminar, but I saved a ton of time not creating every single lecture, test, and activity from scratch.
2. Try not to take it personally. When we spend hours creating the perfect learning experience, it is so hard not to take it personally when kids are disruptive, not engaged, falling asleep, and asking to go to the bathroom. My first few years were filled with days that ended with me locking the door behind the last class of the day, putting my head on my desk and crying. I tried a myriad of behavior systems that didn’t work for my style of teaching. In the end, I decided that my best classroom management strategy was a good lesson plan and thick skin. Instead of concentrating on misbehavior, I concentrated on creating engaging lessons. I still have high expectations for my students’ behavior, but I let go of trying to control what can’t be controlled. Even when they are taller than me and driving a nicer car than I am, they are still just kids. They have bad days. They have to stay up all night planning for prom. They have to spend lunch break picking up homework for a sick friend instead of using the restroom. Not everyone feels the same spark for Hawthorne’s periodic sentences. It’s not personal, so don’t take it that way. Warning: easier said that done.
3. Create boundaries for work. Be sure that you are still spending time taking a yoga class, watching movies, and hanging out with your friends and family. I suggest creating non-office hours. Maybe you don’t do school work on Saturdays or Monday-Friday between the hours of 4 and 7pm. I also suggest eating lunch with faculty friends instead of at your desk or while tutoring students. Teaching can be isolating enough and you will quickly learn in casual lunch conversation that you are not alone in your areas of struggle and triumph. Pick whatever works for you, just make sure that you have some time doing things other than grading, prepping, and answering emails. You have a long career ahead of you, pace yourself.
4. Watch other teachers teach. It is difficult to take time away from your prep period and possibly even tougher to work up the courage to ask a colleague if you can observe, but it is so worth it! Watching one class period a month can leave you with valuable tips, tricks, and classroom tested strategies. Good teachers won’t mind, I promise.
5. Make friends with the maintenance person and the secretary. Teaching is messy. These people will bail you out of 100 sticky situations before Christmas break. Trust me on this one.
6. Wear comforable shoes. I know it is tempting to wear those gorgeous new heels or shiny men’s dress shoes to school, but don’t. If you really need to wear them, just be sure to bring a back up pair of flats or walking shoes. Anything that will deter you from walking around the room to interact with students should be off limits. Side note: Be sure you can move safely in your whole outfit. If you bend over a desk to help a student or drop your white board marker, be sure you are not exposing any extra flesh anywhere. You don’t want to be known as that teacher.
7. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you say this is the last chance, it better be the last chance. If you say that a behavior will result in extra homework, detention, or other consequence, be sure that you are willing to go through with it fairly. If you make outrageous threats, students won’t take you seriously and if you don’t go through with fair and reasonable consequences, students will have no reason to follow your directives in the future. On the other hand, if you don’t communicate the expectations, students will not read your mind. Be careful what you say because students pick up on idle threats and broken promises very quickly.
What advice do you have for new teachers or veteran teachers? We’d love to hear it.