Ten Pieces of Life Advice from Mom I Use in the Classroom

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1.  The Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated

Many times in my teaching career, I have seen fellow teachers talk down to students, using their own authority to make a child feel small.  Comments like, “Now, did you want me to think you were lazy or stupid by not doing my homework?” or “When you graduate from high school, get a degree, and have your own classroom, THEN you can have an opinion.” I am not going to lie and say that there aren’t times that I have wanted to lash out in anger/frustration/exasperation at a student, but I try my best to remember what it was like to be in that desk, traveling from classroom-to-classroom, not always understanding what the teacher was trying to teach me, and having a barrel full of friendship drama strapped to my back.  The last thing that I would want to hear is my teacher being condescending towards my mistakes or misunderstandings.  Students are people too; smellier and higher percentage of eye-rolling than most, but they are people who deserve respect.

2.  If it’s not yours, don’t take it without asking

Pens or pencils on my desk are the socks in a dryer in my world: just when you think you have them accounted for, you lose one without a trace, gone into the abyss.  But these are minor possessions and any good teacher will have a stash of pencils that are cheap, cheap, cheap and if they go away with the students after class, it’s not a big deal.  This rule is more about the other teachers who take things from the community rooms: staplers, hole punches, stacks of printer paper for their personal printers, and the paper cutter.  There is nothing more annoying than printing out the next three weeks worth of vocabulary worksheets that I’ve condensed down to save paper and triplicated, to walk into the copy room and have the paper cutter go missing.  Do you know how long it takes to cut a stack of 150 papers into thirds with one pair of scissors???

3.  Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer

Just because teachers are put in the charge of instructing and being role models for students doesn’t mean that they can’t exhibit childish behavior. I’ve worked in many different settings, and there is ALWAYS an office gossip and brown-noser; schools are not immune to tattle-tales or rumor starters & spreaders.  It’s vital that when you’re new, you try to snoop out who those people are on your new staff.  I have tried to stay away from them, but that doesn’t keep my name out of their mouths.  The best thing that you can do is to keep on your A game, don’t do anything worth gossiping about, and be friendly with them, and do not be fake about it.  Do you have to become besties and eat lunch together?  Of course not!  However, you can smile and say hello in the hallways, show interest in their projects at school, and never EVER engage in gossip about them.

4.  Always be a lady

  • Be polite
  • Say “please” and “thank you,”
  • Compliment others genuinely
  • Offer assistance to others in need

5.   It’s better to be overly prepared than under prepared

I have taught in schools with 75 minute class periods, 90 minute class periods, and now 48 minute class periods.  In all of these scenarios it’s important to know the appropriate lesson content to keep the students engaged and on task with as little downtime as possible.  It may take a few lessons to figure out the right tempo of your classroom, but everything will quickly figure itself out.  There’s nothing worse than coming to the end of your lesson and there are 5-10-15 minutes  left in the class period.  The savvy teacher will have a bag of tricks to pull from, and the key is to make it look like it was always in the plan.  When I make my unit plans, I always ensure to have more than two activities for each objective, that way if I have the additional time, I can bring out the second.

Ways to Spend an Extra Five Minutes in Class:

  • Have students write a paragraph that summarizes what they learned in class
  • Popcorn read
  • Review vocabulary words
  • “Someone tell me one thing that they learned today”

6.  Put yourself in someone else’s shoes

Empathy will take you farther with your students than you think.  There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God that I never have to be a teenager and go to high school again.  The education part of high school was just fine, with the exception of Geometry, but it was all of the drama and social issues that made me feel like a I had leprosy.  My home life was that of a typical teenager: I got along with my mom most of the time, I fought with my dad, I wanted to buy more clothes ALL the time, and I had a few fits from time to time.  However, this isn’t the case for many young people.  Their homes can be filled with abuse, poverty, responsibilities put on young people that should remain in the hands of adults.  We have no idea what it may take for some of our students to simply get to school, let alone perform at 100% in our class.  Before writing off a student as lazy, ignorant, or a behavior problem, we must think about what the journey to and from school may look like.

7.  Learn the art of keeping your mouth shut

Sometimes less is more.  As much as we may think our opinion is pure gold, that doesn’t mean that it has to be expressed on every single occasion.  What I mean by this is that sometimes your silence means more than words.  Many times, students will try to engage their teachers in a verbal battle, and when that happens, the student has already won.

Example of how to use the art of non-engagement with a student:

Student: Why did you write me up for talking? I wasn’t the only one who was talking.  Everyone else was!

Teacher: Student, I hear what you’re saying, but I will not discuss other students and their consequences with you.  If you know that you did wrong, then you must have a consequence.  I need to get class started now.  We can talk about this after class if you would like.  

Student: It’s not fair!  You never write them up!

Teacher:  I’m sorry you feel that way.  We can talk about it later, though.

Student: Are you serious???

Teacher: You have two choices: we can either talk about it later or you can talk about it with the Dean; either way we are not talking about it now.

8.  Count to ten before you say anything when you get angry

This goes back to #1 and #7.  Students do and say things that can quite frankly make you mad or upset.  My biggest pet peeve in my class is when students do not take ownership of their own mistakes and blame others.  An example of this was when I required students to bring their copies of the novel Speak to class on a Monday.  A month before the book was needed, I announced to the students and wrote the date on the board, where it remained while I reminded the students daily for the  two weeks prior  that they would need their books.  The day the books were required, one student said, “What ‘Speak?’  What is that?  I didn’t know we needed that.  You never told us.”  You can imagine how upsetting this was and on many different levels.  The only thing that kept me calm was counting to ten, right then and there, and then said, “It’s unfortunate that you didn’t bring your copy of the book.  The reminder has been posted for a while and you’re just going to have to make do for today.  Be sure you have it tomorrow.”  There are some days I’ve counted to one hundred, but it keeps me sane and employed.

9.  Respect your elders

It’s important to align yourself with the best teaching methods, creative ideas, and resources in order to make your classroom the most efficient and effective.  Sometimes the best resource is another teacher.  When I began my teaching career seven years ago, I felt very alone and scared almost every single day despite the fact that the high school I worked at had five other English teachers.  Not one of them wanted to collaborate or share with me, and not because I had done anything wrong to alienate myself, but for whatever reason I did not have a good support system within my own department.  This did not stop me from seeking that from other places.  I became good friends with the Science and Math department, bouncing ideas off of them, asking for suggestions for dealing with certain classroom management situations, and how to survive in general.  As I have moved on from that first year, I realized that the best thing that I could do was befriend my coworkers and learn everything that I could from them.

10.  Remember, your mom and dad love you!

At the end of the day, no matter how many times I feel like running away and never coming back, I am comforted by the the love and support I get from my family.

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