Things I Have Learned

January 27: Catching Up

While going through paperwork this week, I came across a list that I wrote ten years ago at the completion of my first year of full-time teaching. I taught middle school that year, with a student roster of 200+ kids. I was out of my depth and completely overwhelmed.

Here's what I wrote in very precise penciled block letters at the end of that year:

1. Leave no loopholes.
2. A loaned pencil is a lost pencil.
3. Seventh graders have the worst breath.
4. Teachers don't work for the paycheck.
5. 75% of the work for the day's lesson should take place before the lesson. (I would now bump that percentage up even more.)
6. Parents are the root of almost every evil.
7. We don't teach a subject - we teach a child.
8. Don't ask a sarcastic question unless you want a sarcastic answer.
9. Wear comfortable shoes. (If you are a guy, you probably do this anyway.)
10. Never seem intimidated.
11. Beware of the button-up dress. (These are out of style now... and probably were even when I wore them, come to think of it.)
12. Keep a bottle of static guard in your bag. (Also band aids, mouth wash, and wipes.)
13. Use every second. "Fill the unforgiving minute," Kipling. (Yes, I included the quote. I was pretentious even then.)
14. Use the summer to work ahead.
15. Nap on Sunday afternoon.
16. Keep a journal of ridiculous things students say. (Do this! I often forget to jot things down and then wanted to kick myself later.)
17. Don't get dressed in the dark. (Still haven't learned this lesson.)
18. Always maintain self-control. (Pray!)
19. Do not ignore the annoying student.
20. Invest in air fresheners.

Things I'd add now:
21. Eat a good breakfast and pack a good lunch. The importance of these cannot be underestimated. Low blood sugar makes every problem feel insurmountable. (I'm much better at accomplishing the former than the latter.)
22. Return all calls and emails promptly, especially the ones you dread.
23. Don't be afraid to forestall some student questions. Responses like 1) "we're getting to that later in the week," and 2) "that's a really good thought, but a little bit too off topic," and 3) "why don't you look it up and let us know tomorrow what you find out," are perfectly acceptable. If you do put a question off to the next day, put the burden of bringing it up again on the student, not yourself. Say, "If you remember to ask that again tomorrow towards the beginning of class, we'll discuss it." Using #3 puts off the students who just like to use questions to side-track you.
24. Try to recruit a local business owner to sponsor your class: provide magazine subscriptions, $ aid for field trips, or even out-of-classroom experience. Depending on your subject matter and the local business available to you, this can be very beneficial. (It has not been super helpful for me, but I have seen other teachers pull it off.)
25. Remember that the first year is often an emotional low for many teachers. Don't make emotion-based decisions if you can avoid it. A few weeks of summer vacation will do worlds of good for your equilibrium; however, nothing will give you proper perspective on your first year except for successive years spent in the classroom.
26. Laugh at yourself. The kids are going to do it anyway.
27. Not every teacher can discipline the same way, but whatever your style, be consistent.
28. Bear in mind that the longer the project, the more you will have to grade.
29. Don't fall into the bribing-them-with-goodies trap. Make your rewards non-tangible. For example, if the kids are especially good one day, reward them by using a few minutes at the end of class to tell them about an amusing dream you had the night before or to share with them a personal anecdote from your childhood. (This will only count as a reward if you don't waste class time doing this whenever things of that sort pop into your head.)
30. Don't friend your students on Facebook, Twitter, or Myspace. They are not your friends, and you will want distance from them when you come home at night.


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