Teaching Survival Tips

If you’ve ever considered working with children to be the calling of your life, and the thought of being all Erin Gruwell/”Freedom Writers” and change the future of a generation, I admire you with the utmost respect.  However, that dream is not what will keep your stamina levels up when you’re grading 145 essays until 11pm or wondering how gum got on the bottom of YOUR desk.  With a little tongue-in-cheek and a count-down-from-ten mantra, I give you the

Tips for Surviving in Teacher Land

5.  Find Your “Mr./Ms. _____” Thing

We all remember that one teacher who had a major impact on us in high school.  They were inspirational and motivating. We couldn’t wait to see their name on our schedules because all of the upperclassmen raved about how cool Mr. So-And-So is.

“Ms. _______ tells the best stories.  It’s like you’re not really in History class.”

“Remember the skits we did in Mrs. _____’s German class? ::Insert You-Had-To-Be-There Phrase::

My thing (I think) is my 9th grade English website.  I put extra credit opportunities online, along with detailed instructions and samples for our assignments, vocabulary terms and definitions for our weekly quizzes, and comical photos and quotes related to English and grammar.  Maybe that’s my thing to me, and the kids may think it’s that I’m a total lunatic.  Potato, Patato.

4.  Ability to Google

Let’s face it, we’re all wondering how we survived pre-Google AKA the Stone Age.  It’s remarkable to me that I used to spend DAYS, literally days on end in my college’s library and actually felt textual pages.  I was the queen of the copy machine and highlighted my brains out.  Now, a few clicky-clicks and my middle name is “COPY AND PASTE.”

HEAD’S UP: This is not about finding and locating lesson plans or unit plans online!  This is about being resourceful in the most importantest (that’s a new word now) of ways.  Were it not for Google, I’d assume that gangnam style was the real name of the drop-crotch style of jeans Bieber is wearing these days.  Did I feel like a ripe old fart when I had to Google “Gangnam Style” – YUP, but I did it so that I didn’t LOOK like a ripe old fart in front of my students.

3.  Be a Lesson Plan Ninja

There should be no doubt in your mind that I go to great lengths to create my lesson plans – keyword PLAN.  It’s in my blood and I have found three variations of my daily plan format to make it 1.) more user-friendly and 2.) keeps all of my housekeeping straight (copies to make, worksheets to create, upcoming plans) But no amount of foresight can prevent the Derailment Doom:

  • Technology Fail
  • Last minute schedule changes
  • Student response

The first two are more of an aggravation and something that you just have to be prepared for with a backup plan, however when your students have a different response than what you were expecting, it its time to fall back on your natural talents and training.  For example, you create a beautiful lesson plan about identifying the main idea of a passage, but only 50% of the students are grasping the concept.  You can’t continue on; it’s like trying to get through the day without a donut – nothing else makes sense in your world.

Does it break your heart a little to see your best ideas (and hours) have to get trashed because it’s not having the right impact?  Of course, but your hurt feelings aren’t the point, are they?  So when I say you must be a lesson plan ninja, you need to be able to assess the situation, make adjustments to properly meet the needs of your students, and make it look like that was the plan all along.  Most of the time, you have to do this while in the middle of your tap dance in front of the class.

2.  Bulletproof Ego

If you’re a parent, you know that your children can be your toughest critics.  As a teacher, you might think that your principal is the one to impress.  While your supervisors are definitely ranking high on the list to not embarass yourself in front of, they are far more forgiving than the 25-30 faces on front of you in your classroom.  I teach middle and high schoolers, and there is not one mistake that they won’t call you, and even things that they’ve created in their own minds.

Prime example:  One of our vocabulary words is “Colossal.”  I have my students use each term in a sentence.  One 9th grader said, “Mrs. Ferrari is quite colossal compared to me.”  Well that’s just fine because I’m 5’9″ and she’s maybe 5′ on the dot.  However, when she read it out loud and a few people snickered, someone said, “Yea, cuz you’re so tall.”  The sentence’s author said, “Not just that.”

So it’s been our running joke.  Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.

But the truth is, students love to point out mistakes that teachers make, call us on what we say, and challenge just about anything.  It’s in their nature.  They get talked at, yelled at, scolded, bossed, directed, instructed all day long.  So if I forget to add a word in my PowerPoint – WATCH OUT!  I’ll hear about it.  The students are better than spell-check.

1.  Never forget why you’re there

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