Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wolski's Top Ten Teaching Tips for Newbies

     I have been thinking about this post for a while and decided that it was high time I put my thoughts down. I know that many of us have collected wisdom over the years and while teaching for a long time does not necessarily mean you have been doing it right, but it does mean that hopefully you have found little things that have worked and that you could pass on to others. This is the purpose of this post. Tips to new teachers that I have found that have worked for me over the last 20 years or so. Remember folks! Teaching is not that hard, but teaching in a way that is compassionate, passionate while still being academically challenging is more of an art. So here we go.....

10. Communicate, communicate, communicate
     Answer parent and student emails as soon as you can. Even if you take a few minutes during class to do so. The quicker you do this, especially when panicky parents email you for the first time, the better the relationship will be with both parents and students. Speaking as a parent myself, there is nothing more frustrating than emailing a teacher about an issue with your son/daughter and then either hearing from them 2 days later or never. And yes, yes, yes, you should be checking your email at home. Comes with the job.
9. Use humor
     I don't know if it has just been my luck, but some of my best teachers I have had are also the funniest teachers that I have had too. Look the bottom line is students do not truly want to be in school so anything you can do to make it more bearable will only be a win win for you as a teacher. Now I don't mean to just stand there and tell jokes but knowing your content and infusing humor into your discussions with students about either content or just whatever, only makes what you tell them more memorable. I also believe that the use of humor let's the students know in a subtle way that you know your content and are able to mix in some humor as well. They dig that. Work on it! Remember, 90% of teaching is building a rapport with students. If you can connect with them using humor as your vehicle you can get students to do a lot when it comes time to push them. (See #6)
8. Be human
     Today a student was so tired, I let her sleep a little in class. You know that phase when you are just so tired that you are slap happy? Yea, that was her. She was so unfocused that she was going to get nothing done anyhow. She is a good kid (aren't they all?) and remember it's the little things like that which will be remembered by the students She told me that she had not slept much in the last two days with homework and a non-school related sport, so I felt bad for her. Now if this happened every day we would have to have a discussion, but for 20 minutes? I wouldn't even bat an eye at that. Sometimes we get so focused on control and on task time that we forget that it's okay to be human and give our students a break every once in a while. Again, not a habit, but I honestly do think that little gestures like this allow students to see that you are in fact, human, and that you can sympathize with them.
7. Give up control
     You really never had control to begin with. It was an illusion that you lured yourself into as a teacher. Yes, yes, yes you can tell the students what to do and they "listen" but see that student in the second row? He's being sneaky and has his phone in his lap. Another student is looking at the worksheet you gave them to do and is drawing cartoons on it and will just copy a friends assignment later. I could come up with a million of these examples. But what do I mean by control? Well, it is a lot easier to not have to worry about "controlling" your students when you are engaged with them, moving around the room. Are students still going to try to be on their phones and copy stuff? Yes! But you have a much easier time when the lessons and units have student input and are designed with engagement in mind. These lessons should also allow for students to be the focus and not you. While I have yet to perfect this, I have found it a much better approach than the traditional stand and talk and give a worksheet.
6. Push your students
      No silly, not that kind of pushing! I could site research that says when teachers have high expectations, and demand those expectations are met, students perform better and meet those expectations. But it is hard to do. Students want the easy way out and sometimes we as teachers want to please students, so we cave in to those demands. But you cannot. You have to constantly fight with the students to do a little more, to dig deeper, to push themselves to go beyond what is expected. While students may say that they love teachers who "gave" them easy As, they will realize later on that it was the teachers that pushed them, that made them do a little more are the ones that they will thank later on.
5. It is about the students
     I know this is a phrase that sometimes gets overused or abused, but the statement is still true. Stuck on whether or not to do something? You should ask yourself whether or not it is the best interests of the students. Now again, that does not mean you let them run all over you, but you should still always consider the impact on students. Will this help them? Can they do it? Will it help them learn? I probably spend way too much time thinking about these things, but I also think that it has made me a better teacher. There are many traps that lure you in when you teach and you have to avoid ones that are not in the best interest of students. Deciding what those interests are is not always easy and you have to spend some a lot of time pondering this. Good luck!
4. Your grades should make sense
     This is probably my biggest pet peeves about teaching. What are you attempting to do with the assignment? What is it measuring? What should the students get out of this? Please don't say "points" Teaching has become a point obsessed profession. I hate to admit that, but we have. I think we have to do some soul searching as teachers and look at what the "points" are suppose to represent. Isn't it learning? That's what I thought we were suppose to be measuring with our assignments. So when you are going to have students do something that you want to put in the grade book, make sure it's not just an assignments for points and points only. Make sure it has meaning and is related to something in your content. Points are just points. Measuring learning is assessment.
3. Know your students names
     I know this sounds like a no brainer, but you would be surprised at the number of times I have heard students say that they seriously don't think one of their teachers knows their name. Wait. What? Look, make flashcards, take attendance using the seating chart, but you have to make it a point to know your student's names. The sooner the better. This gets back to designing lessons where you are not the center of attention and you can use the opportunity to know the students by walking around and not only making sure they are understanding the lesson, but you can learn their name in the process.
2. Do what is right, not what is easy
     Look, if someone told you teaching was "easy" because you get the summers off and all you have to do is stand there and talk about the subject, they clearly lied to you. Teaching is not easy. Not everyone can do it and I think some get into the profession thinking it's easy and then are sorely disappointed when it is not. Many times I think that people fall into the trap of doing what is easy in the classroom because well, it's easier on them as a teacher but it's not good for students. Doing your job as a teacher is by the very nature of doing it right, a difficult task. You have to constantly reassess what you are doing and cannot just SALY everything. (Same as Last Year) So you have to be introspective and remember that the goal of what you do is learning. Learning is not easy, its a very complicated process so it makes your job difficult. But again, it is the right thing to do, so DO IT!
1. Enthusiasm 
      Remember when I said that you should approach this job with passion? Well, yea. That. While simple enthusiasm is no substitute for a good lesson and content, it is far better to be in a classroom with a teacher that knows their content and is actually excited about what they are doing. Hey, you are going to have to do this job for a few years, so why not make the content interesting and approach it with some enthusiasm? I think that excitement and enthusiasm for a lesson is infectious and a great thing for a teacher to have. If you are into it, how could the students not be excited and into it? I also think that enthusiasm helps you as a teacher to grow and to have the mindset that continuing to want to improve your teaching is worthwhile. So dive in!

     I hope dear constant reader that you have found this helpful and I may add more lists like this in the future.


  1. Absolutely love this - probably because it's exactly what I believe! Would love to add this post to the Reflective Teacher at TeachThought wiki if that was acceptable to you? I think it could start discussions that need to be had. It could also make a good starter for the TeachThought Reflective Teacher chat we have every Tuesday. Let me know your thoughts. :-)

  2. Sure add it to the wiki if you want to and any other posts too. Feel free!!

  3. Wow Michael - this is an excellent reflection and one that is so obviously written by a practitioner - not one of the out of touch, decision makers who decide upon the rules for teaching from their ivory towers - devoid of the reality of daily contact, relationships, meltdowns, challenges and joys of working with children. I love that you let your student have a nap. I zap lunches for my kids in the microwave because I understand that they don't like sandwiches; I have a little beach tent which I set up, equipped with pillows, if I have kids who are struggling with concentration or trying to manage a small meltdown - as you say, 20 minutes in there with a book an iPad or a sleep, can word wonders. I also love your point about pushing the kids - sometimes it would be the easiest thing to let them complete something without the care or the detail - because one thing kids can locate really easily, is the quickest path to the end, but as you say, it is the learning which is done in going that extra mile, which will stay with them for longer. I also love that you mention how important it is to know the kids names. How important is it in your own life, that people remember your name. I also think that it is equally as important, to spell their names correctly - despite how tricky or bizarre that spelling may be. I'm sure you have had a few variations on "Michael" over the years. I know I have had a variety of "Margaret" which both amuse and annoy me. I am going to put a link to your post, on my blog - congratulations and thank you for speaking from the heart. This is awesome advice for all teachers - new and old. :-)

    1. Margaret....thanks for the thoughtful comments!! I just like to share what I have found to work to pay it forward as it were. I will continue to add posts here, so thanks for the linking! Have a great weekend!