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Tips for Teachers – 10 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Teaching

Teaching is the most rewarding job in the world, but let’s be honest. It’s not easy. And it can be especially challenging for new teachers. I taught for 12 years and there are so many things I wish someone had told me, which is why I’m sharing 10 things I wish I had known when I started teaching.

1) Teaching Is Draining at First.  I came home after my first day of teaching and literally collapsed onto our couch. I was exhausted. I was tired of standing. I was tired of talking. I was tired of being “on.” Because once that school day starts, a teacher is constantly “on.” You’re being watched and listened to (even when you think you’re not), which means a teacher can never let her guard down and must always keep her “game face” on.  The good news is that it doesn’t stay that draining — I didn’t come home and collapse onto the couch at the end of each day. Only some days.

2) Accept Help When It Is Offered.  There is the idea that a teacher should do everything herself and that you have to do it all yourself. You don’t. When help is offered, accept it gratefully. And remember, help takes many forms. Help doesn’t have to mean extra adults in your classroom. Parents can do plenty of “behind-the-scenes” tasks at home which are no less important than tasks done in class. These at-home jobs include sharpening pencils, cutting, and stapling.

3) Like In Parenting, Some Of Your Best Teaching Moments Won’t Be Planned.  You can have a lesson plan, a general blueprint for what you want to get accomplished. But you can’t plan for the conversations, the questions, the discussions which were always my favorite part of teaching. Similarly, some of these best conversations may be the hardest ones. (For example, after Osama bin Laden’s death, many of my fourth graders wondered why his death was being celebrated when they are taught killing is wrong).

4) When Possible, Don’t Give Up Your Recess and Lunch.  There are always exceptions to this rule, and sometimes a conference or meeting is scheduled during your recess and lunch. Keeping a child in because he/she didn’t complete homework, punishes you as much as the student. But guard your limited “off” time, and give it up on your terms. (My fourth-graders earned rewards which included lunch with the teacher, a dessert I provided, and no homework that night. I happily gave up my lunch on these days!).

5) Never Forget That Each Child’s Background Experience Is Different.  We know that children learn differently. But, children are also coming from very different backgrounds and have very different previous experiences. Case in point, when I told my fourth graders we were taking a walking field trip to the Apple store, one of my students thought we were going to a fruit stand.

6) As in Parenting, Simple Is Sometimes the Most Effective.  We all know how young children can be more entertained by the gift wrapping than the present itself. It’s not always the fanciest or flashiest item that gets kids’ attention. While it’s fun to do science experiments, teachers may not always have access to all the tools or supplies you’d like to use. That’s still okay. Simple, easy, and inexpensive can still be effective. (To demonstrate gravity to my kindergartners and the idea that two items of different mass will fall at the same time, my children took turns standing on a chair and dropping two different items such as a marker and a book, for example. When discussing states of matter with my fifth graders, we made “goo;” something many of them had never done before).

7) Field Trips Take a Lot of Planning.  While field trips may be the highlight of the year for many students, for many teachers field trips are not always a whole lot of fun. Yes, they’re valuable learning tools. But, they require a lot of planning and coordinating. And, they are draining. I always felt like I spent the entire field trip counting my class, two-by-two, making sure everyone was safe and accounted for. So, whenever possible, I tried to never plan anything during after-school hours on the day of a field trip. Teachers need to go home and recover.

8) Collaborate When Possible.  Some schools emphasize grade-level collaboration more than others. Some teachers welcome the chance to work with others, while some teachers prefer to do their own thing. Find a teacher who is eager to work with you. It helps to have someone to lesson plan with, to brainstorm with, to compare notes with. If your math lesson didn’t go as well as planned, did your teacher-collaborator do it differently? Share and borrow. There’s no need to “reinvent the wheel.”

9) Get To Know The Faculty and Staff.  At a new school, there is a lot of new information to take in. Just like with your students, you need to learn where the restrooms are, where the staff lounge is located, and where the work-room can be found. But don’t forget to learn the names of the people you will be working with, including the office staff and the custodial staff. These important people will be invaluable to you as the school year goes on. Get to know them, before you need to ask them for something.

10) It Doesn’t Get Easier.  I taught for twelve years, and I firmly believe I was a better teacher in my twelfth year than my first year. More years in the classroom does provide you with experience, confidence, and “tricks of the trade.” But each year, you are teaching a new group of children. Each year, there are a fresh set of challenges within your classroom. (Not to mention the differences in curriculum, testing, and report cards that are mandated by the school district). You never reach a point where you’re “coasting” or on “auto-pilot.” That doesn’t happen if you’re teaching passionately and with your heart.

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