Suggestions for New Teachers

Susan Manning, of the Green Room in the Learning Times Network, asked for suggestions for new teachers. Here’s my response.

My tip is, be ready for the unpredictability of the classroom. It doesn’t matter what level you teach, whether your classes are online or f2f, what the discipline, it will always be unpredictable. So be ready to go with the flow – always maintaining a calm outward appearance.

Here’s my favorite true story of a surprise moment.

I was teaching high school English, in Needles CA, small town of 5000, and not much for high school kids to do. Our unit was on descriptive essays, which they had to write and present to the class with props. So I brought in my backpack and described it to show them what I was looking for. It was the first of several presentation days, Richie came up and started to put out his props … which I really didn’t recognized until someone between snickers said, “Man, that’s a lot of bongs!” It was a lot, he brought in about 20 and proceeded to describe how they were used … and for what. Well, to say the least, I was dying inside, but maintained the calm outward demeanor. Students all over school knew what he had planned – there was even a peeping Tom leering over the top of the lockers to see through the windows of our classroom. I let him finish and calmly said, “In the future, I need to ok your topic.” I let it go and said, “Ok, who’s next.”

Now that’s unpredictability at its best. If I had made a big deal about it, or had a meltdown, students would have joined in the chaos and I would have lost control. Somehow I knew I just needed to move on.

So, new teachers, you need to work on a calm demeanor no matter what happens in the classroom – this calm but silent giant persona will come across to the students as someone who is in control, but not rigid. They need behavioral boundaries with reasonable freedoms. This balance will be impossible to achieve if the teacher wants total control over every minute.

Suggestion: work with the students to develop their own class rules and consequences. Give them a couple of your must-haves with consequences, then let them add to them. You might be surprised at how much harder they are on themselves than you are.

Last, if you get to the point where there is no joy in your day with your students, then get out of teaching. There will be ebbs and flows of joy, but overall you need to have that spark if you’re going to stay in the profession.

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