You’ve finished your student teaching, you’ve earned your diploma, and you’re ready to put your skills to use in the classroom. Before you take that first teaching job, there are several things you need to know that they don’t necessarily tell you in Teacher School. Take it from a veteran teacher: if you want to succeed with your sanity in tact, keep these 5 tips in mind.
1. You must like kids
Seems obvious, right? But depending on their age, children’s personalities can be really challenging. It is important that you not only like your students, but that you’re careful not to be too judgmental. Always remember that they’re not fully-realized adults – their frontal lobes aren’t even fused yet! Many of their ideas and ideals are still reliant on their parents’ opinions and worldviews, so it’s helpful to keep in mind that they may not yet have their “own” ideas about life’s greater questions and concerns. If you truly like children, you will understand that they are still forming as human beings, and that they need a teacher who respects that.
2. Don’t take anything personally
Nothing makes me feel worse in the classroom than when students are talking to each other while I’m teaching, or when I’m in the middle of an important lesson that I’ve worked hard to make interesting, only to look out into my audience and see a girl looking at her hair in a mirror, or a boy sneaking a text to his friends. It took me a long time to realize that kids were not taking care of their immediate needs in spite of me, or as a way to let me know that they didn’t care what I had to say (although this may be the case in many such situations); they simply have more pressing concerns sometimes than, say, quadratic equations. To a child, that pimple on their forehead is going to cause them a lot more grief than getting a bad grade on a quiz. It’s not your they’re ignoring; it’s that they’re taking care of their own needs.
3. Organize, organize, organize
You must have systems in place for all of the work you will do each day. It’s important to keep graded papers separated from papers that need to be graded; administrative paperwork needs to have its own place so that it doesn’t get ignored in your efforts to plan and teach; and your students need to know what to do with completed work. There are myriad products available to organize your desk and classroom to make everything flow more efficiently. Although it may seem like an extraneous expense, a good organizational system is a necessity. You can’t teach effectively if you don’t know where your supplies are!
4. You can never over-plan
Even the most organized teachers sometimes neglect to plan enough in case of emergencies. What might an emergency consist of? How about that great technology-infused Smartboard lesson you had planned – that couldn’t happen because of a network glitch in your building? Or the painstaking PowerPoint presentation you prepared about the Civil War on your home computer that you neglected to save on your work computer? Technology is great, but it’s not always cooperative. A surefire way to get around any computer snafu is to have plenty of other lessons on hand, just in case. And don’t forget about that unexpected illness that you thought bypassed you. If you’ve over-planned, chances are, your sub will have plenty to do to keep your students busy while you recover.
5. You are not an island
Probably the most vital piece of advice for the beginning teacher – or a teacher at any stage in their career – is to make friends with your colleagues. If for no other reason than to vent when a class won’t behave, or to just share something great that has happened in your classroom. Teaching can be a very lonely profession if you don’t branch out and make other teacher friends; people who aren’t teachers can’t understand the language we speak. Not only is it important to have someone to talk to, but other teachers can be great sources of ideas for your curriculum. I don’t know how many times I’ve told a fellow teacher about one of my lessons, only to receive recommendations for a different or better way to do it in return. And don’t neglect the advice of newer teachers over preference for teachers who have been doing it longer; beginning teachers have learned the latest technologies and techniques in their education courses, and can be invaluable for helping you plan the most engaging lessons.