What College Should Teach You About Teaching

As a salty veteran teacher it is almost sweet seeing the hopeful expectation in the eyes of new teachers.  They've just graduated college and they are ready to fix education.  Thing is, there is much to learn that's not covered in college.  I'd like to share some of those things with you.  Whether you're a salty veteran or wet-behind-the-ears, I think there's something here for you.

Number 1:  The Most Important Skill for Teachers

There is no better skill for a teacher than the ability to get along with others.  This is especially true for those teaching high school.  In high school you'll be navigating around 150 students a day, all with blossoming personalities, body odor, love-interests, extravagant behavior and mood-swings.  If you can't find it in yourself to be gracious for the outrageous behaviors, you'll be in for an unpleasant career.

The thing I always try to remember is that I would NOT want to be judged today for the person I was when I was 15 years old.

Number 2:  Say NO to Your Boss

This is probably the most powerful for new teachers, but all can be victims of being over-worked.  It's true, there's a great need for man-power at a high school.  Class sponsors, club sponsors, coaches, curriculum projects, prom, after school activities and so on are all roles that need to be filled.  The eager, the new, the young and energetic ... well, they're the group most likely to say yes when asked to take on these tasks, so they'll likely be asked first.

But new teachers are the last who should be taking on these additional duties.

You have a limited bandwidth and the more you try to do with that bandwidth, the lower the quality.  Plus, there's a STEEP learning curve to teaching.  The first year should be spent doing nothing but learning how to teach, refining your procedures and practices.  Seriously, spend a lot of energy focusing on how to be efficient and effective.

Saying No to your boss isn't easy, but you can manage.  You won't get fired, they need you.  Just explain that you don't want to take on more than you can handle.  Once you've got a strong grip on the teaching side of things you'll explore taking on other duties.

Number 3:  Don't Grade Everything

Just because students did it doesn't mean you have to grade it.  Sometimes participation or completion is all that needs to be noted.  Think of it this way...the purpose of them working is to promote their learning.  If grading doesn't inform students about their progress (are they even going to consider why they were marked wrong?), and if it doesn't provide meaningful insight for you regarding their progress, then why grade?

And often reviewing the materials completed by students as a class is far more informative to both you and the students than sitting at a desk looking through each problem, making notes for the students and recording all of the scores.

Number 4:  Don't Try and Pacify Parents

If a parent is upset, let them be upset.  If you have a good structure for how their child earns their grade, stick with it.  "Johnny is failing because Johnny hasn't done homework.  Because he hasn't done homework he hasn't learned and he fails the quizzes.  Johnny fails to take advantage of the remediation offered for his quizzes and then fails the tests.  At the end of each class I can get Johnny to understand what he needs to understand.  But then he is responsible for performing the assignments to make his learning permanent."

Again, if parents are upset about grades, stick to your guns.  Whatever your late policy is, stick with it.  I personally do NOT allow late homework past the Friday of the week it was assigned.  End of story, not open for discussion.

Use this line:  "We can't fix the past, can only use the lessons learned from those mistakes to inform our future actions."

Number 5:  You Only Need 2 Pairs of Pants (men)

Monday wear pair 1.  Tuesday wear pair 2.  Wednesday wear pair 1.  Thursday wear pair 2.  Friday is usually casual day, wear jeans.  DONE!


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