Advice from the Trenches


The traditional eighth wedding anniversary gift is bronze or pottery.  Four weeks ago I celebrated my bronze teaching anniversary, and while half of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, I could not be prouder of that accomplishment.

I have taken on many different roles throughout those eight years, and now the title of “Mentor.”  When I began teaching, I was not offered the guidance of someone experienced to offer support or insight into this very stressful and ever-changing profession.  I’m far from the best, but I have learned many lessons the hard way and adjusted, and that is the factor that has helped me survive for eight years.

Top Ten Pieces of Advice from the Trenches

(In no particular order)

1.  No lesson is ever done.  This doesn’t mean that your lesson didn’t go well or that there’s something wrong.  Take the time to reflect about how well the lesson went and what alternative resources could be used to make the content more meaningful in the future.

2.  Take advice from everyone, but only listen to what will work for you.

3.  You don’t have to grade every single assignment, but you do have to read them.

4.  Befriend the school secretary and janitor; they are the most valuable people in the school.

5.  Don’t take it personally.  If working with teenagers for the past eight has taught me anything it’s that you need to have a thick skin in order to be effective.  You’re in a position of authority and it’s just natural that your students will want to challenge you.

6.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  If you make a threat, you must carry it out, so be cautious about using them.  “If you talk during the test one more time, I will give you a zero.”  Be prepared to follow through with both your student and their parent.

7.  Don’t be afraid of parents.  Yes, sometimes they can be scary and even intimidating, but  it’s your duty to communicate with students’ parents.

8.  Document everything!  If you have a concern about a student, document it.  Make a phone call home to Mom and Dad?  Document it.

9.  Make yourself a priority.  Teaching is a stressful job and you cannot be at your best if you burn the candle at both ends without a little R&R now and then.

10.  Create a Personal Learning Community.  Even though you may not have a mentor or anyone within your department or grade level that you can count on, it’s important to surround yourself with people who have been there or that you can bounce ideas off of.  I found this on Twitter and social media.  When I have a question about my curriculum or a concern that I need some advice about, I can turn to the wonderful educators that I have found online.

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