What Teachers Do Not Learn in University Classes
A Veteran's Advice She Wished She Had Received as a New Teacher
After 36 years in the classroom, spanning all grades and special programs, I remember only too well the hardest moments in my career when I felt like I was forging upstream without a paddle. I do know that when a certain angel appeared in the form of a caring colleague or administrator, it made the difference between resigning or bravely ascending a mountain of exhausting work and responsibilities. These tried and true points for a less stressful teaching experience have stood the test of time in my own classes, and now I use them as a teacher coach to help future generations of effective educators.
Do not try to be your students’ friend!
I worked with a new teacher who thought that coming off as a buddy to his fifth graders would be an asset. I emphatically told him, “Set your rules and regulations and post them with appropriate consequences in the first month of school. Make it clear that you are the educator in charge. Let the children know, without a doubt, that you will be true to your standards so that they feel secure in the knowledge that you have their best interests at the forefront of the learning process.” He didn’t listen and continued to allow his students to direct the class. At the end of the year, he said to me, “You were right. If had taken charge from day one, I wouldn’t have had an out of control class all year. It’s been a nightmare.” You can be effectively successful if you hold tight to the rules. Then, there is time for student-teacher bonding within a reasonable and fair structure. Our students already have friends, but what they need is a strong teacher.
Take anecdotal notes for everything.
I won’t mince words. Sometimes you will come across an irate parent or colleague. Keep a log of everything that was said in formal and informal transactions in case a misunderstanding becomes a legal matter. It happens. One hundred percent of the time, my notes allowed me to keep my dignity, respect and stellar reputation.
Pick your battles.
When a youthful, energetic teacher joins a staff with new ideas, then the status quo is threatened. Established subgroups of veteran teachers can be difficult when interacting with the newbie. I enjoyed writing grants and implementing new programs for students. I was often met with anywhere from jealous resistance to unfair gossip. You have two choices: one, ignore the naysayers and keep your focus on the children; or two, if your career is threatened by incessant ridicule, which creates undue stress, speak directly to the negative ring leader. On two occasions of my 36-year career, I had to calmly and quietly say, “This is not a job, it is my career. If you continue to undermine my professionalism with a hostile work environment, then I will seek legal counsel.” Attitudes changed quickly and a positive balance was restored…both times.
It’s okay to end your day at a reasonable time.
Teachers are natural caretakers and will do anything to help their students. I was one of those teachers who came at 7a.m. and left at 6p.m. I even worked one whole weekend day to keep up with the rigors of the job. However, I didn’t have my own children. The truth is that a teacher’s work is never done. Make sure your lesson plans are covered for the week, then a keep a good balance between work and family. If you don’t, your health will become compromised and you won’t be good for your students or your own children. Do not let guilt be your guiding light. Know that each day you do your best within a set parameter of time is more than enough.
And finally, have fun!!
I loved teaching because I learned to build in fun with every unit in every theme. I made sure that art, drama, song and dance were interspersed in every subject, including math. My students looked forward to the creative portion of their lessons, which also kept negative behaviors from flaring and becoming a distraction to others. If I could laugh, sing and move with my students at least once a day, then I knew I was being a successful educator. My memories are filled with loving and joyful students. Be that joyful teacher.
There was nothing more gratifying than when a student said to me, “Mrs. Kato, I will never forget what I learned from you. You taught me the importance of working hard to get a good education.”
Countless former students requested me to be their children's teacher before I retired. Invariably, they gave me the same explanation: "Mrs. Kato, you cared enough about me to give me the proper consequences for my disrespectful behaviors. Yet, when I needed academic and emotional help, I could count on you to be there for me. I want nothing less for my children."
Strong, consistent and caring teachers do change the world, one student at a time. However, don't let anyone tell you it will be easy.