Teacher Tuesday: Advice for the new teacher

Much has been written for and about teachers, especially advice for the new teacher, but I thought I would devote today’s blog post to that subject anyway.  After 30 years of teaching and administrating, I feel like I know a little something about the field, so here goes. . .
  • As a new teacher about to begin your first real school year, you no doubt have spent some sleepless nights, tossing and turning with planning and anticipation of what your very own classroom will be like.  You are looking forward to meeting your students, but then again there is a sense of dread and fear, wondering if you can really pull it off.  Relax.  You can.  You have all the training and knowledge that all of rest of us had, probably even more these days with all the technology and research now available.  You can do this!
  • Now for some practical advice.  I know that the first bit of advice is a bit difficult. No matter what anyone says, those butterflies won’t go away.  And that’s a good thing.  That means you will be on your toes, your A game.  To quell the panic, get your classroom ready before you sit down at your desk to prepare your lesson.  Likely you have already done this.  But if you haven’t, get to it.  I could never concentrate on my lessons until my room was ready, all the posters and decorations up, the desks in place, the room ready for the kids to walk in. Now sometimes it isn’t possible, especially if the custodians are waxing the floors the weekend before school starts or you are still waiting on desks or equipment, but get it as ready as you possibly can.
  • Prepare for your first day.  When I started to panic about what I was going to do, I would slow down, take a breath, and think. All I needed was to know what I was doing the first day.  Once I got the activities in place for that first day or first class period, the rest would fall into place. This may be difficult if your principal expects your lesson plans a week beforehand, but you can always plan that first day and make adjustments for the rest of the week as needed.
  • Make a list of your activities, an agenda of your plan for the day.  I always wrote an agenda on my board or on a Powerpoint slide and had my junior high and high school students write it down in their notebooks or journals. Having the list of activities posted where I and my students could see it ensured that I wouldn’t get ahead of myself or forget what was next, and my students always knew what was coming next.  It also provided a reference for them if they missed class. They could always ask their neighbor what we did in class that day.
  • Resist any urge to socialize your planning time away.  Keep a to-do list in your planner or on a tablet on your desk and use your planning period to be productive. Trust me, you will be glad you did.  You can socialize during lunch!
  • Seek out a positive, experienced teacher to be your mentor.  You don’t have to ask them to be your mentor.  Just be around them when you can and soak up their energy, enthusiasm, and ideas.  Negative people will do nothing for your attitude or your career; in fact, they will color your perception of yourself as a teacher and the kids as your students.  Do not allow negative people to bring you down!  You chose your profession because you wanted to be a positive influence on young lives. Hang with positive people!
  • Whining is NOT an option.  If you fail, and we all do, reflect on what you did, how you prepared or didn’t, and learn from your mistakes.  Teachers must be flexible.  If you planned a test on the same day the principals planned a disaster drill, roll with it.  No one will benefit from your complaining or whining and what’s more, you will only bring yourself and others down.
  • And finally, always have a Plan B. Administrators do plan drills without telling you, you will get called to meetings during class, your frogs for dissecting won’t arrive on time, the network will break down, your hour and a half lesson will be done in thirty minutes. Have an alternate lesson or activity you can pull out of your hat at a moment’s notice.  As you gain more experience, this will be easier, but don’t allow yourself to be totally dependent on Powerpoint lectures and worksheets.  Computers and copy machines break down but the kids will be there anyway.  Ask for ideas from experienced teachers.  You will be surprised at what they will tell you.
You are about to start your career as a teacher!  It will be rewarding, frustrating, time-consuming, nerve-wracking, sad, happy, maddening, full of love, and FAST.  Don’t allow yourself to forget why you became a teacher, and always enjoy and appreciate your students. 
And let me know if none or all of this applies.  Now put that expensive college education to use and go forth and teach!

TEACHER TUESDAY: More tales from the darkside. . .

Just kidding. . .not really the darkside.  That phrase just has a ring to it, although some days in the classroom or school were dark for a lot of my students at different times.  For a young, inexperienced schoolteacher who was about as confident as a tightrope walker without a net, there were dark times in the classroom as well. 

Like for instance, the daily struggle to maintain classroom discipline so as not to invoke the disapproval of the two very strict male teachers on either side of me.  The last thing I wanted was for them to talk about my lack of classroom discipline with the same disdain they held for other teachers.  In those days, students were expected to remain quiet at all times, even in the science lab.  I can’t even imagine trying to get students to whisper in the lab today.  Times have certainly changed.

Anyway, there were a few students, a couple that I remember in particular, who had trouble keeping quiet during my lectures and scads of notes.  Not only were these students fourteen and fifteen-year-old boys, but they unable to resist challenging a first-year teacher, especially a size 5 female in high heels.

I’ll never forget trying to start class while being conscious of a couple of boys in the middle of the room who were trying to conceal their laughter.  I would give them the pointed teacher stare and they would settle a bit with smirks on their faces.  As I began to write notes on the chalkboard–yes, CHALKboard–I finally discovered what they were snickering about.

Written on the board just above the chalk tray were the words, “Mrs. Coker has a fine a**.”  Now what does one do with this information?  I had stopped for a second while reading, but I then hurriedly reached for the eraser and made it disappear, ignoring the ripples of stifled laughter that swept the room behind me, my face burning with embarrassment.

Me as a young teacher

But the show must go on, they say, so I proceeded with my lesson, acting as if nothing had happened.  Oh, those early days.  With their tales of the darkside.  Or rather, the backside. . .