Half of all teachers leave the profession by the end of their fifth year. Half of all inner-city teachers leave by the end of year three.
I recently read this in one of the education blogs I follow. Whereas I managed to hang in there by the skin of my teeth for ten years, deciding to call it quits this past June, I saw this happen to many colleagues.
Teaching is hard work, and I’m not talking hard as in getting up five days a week during the school year to teach classes of 30-35 students, which in itself is mind-boggling. We are not talking about 30-35 students who are sitting there all ready to learn. We are talking about rambunctious, energetic children, be they elementary, middle, or high school kids, who would rather be anywhere else but in a classroom. Just ask any kid about school. That’s the reality of teaching today.
No, teaching is hard because it requires constant emotional and intellectual work if one is to be an effective teacher. What constitutes an effective teacher is open to interpretation, especially in the current educational climate so I’ll leave that discussion for another blog. Today I want to begin blogging about my experiences as a teacher not because I now consider myself a teacher-guru, but because any teacher who has managed to stand in front of a classroom of children and not have a nervous breakdown at the end of the day, the week, month, year has accumulated invaluable experiences that can be of benefit to other teachers, especially to ones who are just starting their careers.
We all know that the best teacher is experience. New teachers can come from the best education programs in the country but there is no substitute for on the job experience. Remember how clueless we felt that first, second year of teaching? Nevertheless, I’d like to offer some basic tips that I learned along the way that allowed me to do my job better. Some of these are practices I observed other teachers doing, some I read about or learned at professional development workshops, others I arrived at by simple intuition and observation of what my students needed and responded positively to. Here are a few.
Classroom Management Tips
1. Be confident – There is nothing worse, and sure to get you off to a bad start, than looking nervous and tentative. Students will cheerfully eat you up and spit you out if you show up looking like the new teacher that you are. I never let out that I was a new teacher until well into the school year after I had developed a relationship with my students. Do whatever it takes to feel confident. Dressing up and practicing yoga and meditation worked for me.
2. Be prepared – Make sure you are prepared for class. Don’t ever think you can wing it! That’s a sure-fire recipe for disaster. This means careful lesson planning. My “disaster” days were usually because my lessons sucked. More on lesson planning at a later date.
3. Know your students – Learn your students’ names as quickly as you can, and pronounce them correctly! Whatever first day activity helps you do this, do it. I hate when students suck their teeth at me because I’ve mispronounced their name. With a name like Zulma, I know how that feels, so I learn names the right way real quick. And…know who they are as students. Start this knowing right away by assessing informally and formally what they are good at and what they need help with.
4. Welcome students to class – Stand in the doorway as they walk in and greet them by name. It sets a positive tone – students feel like you are truly glad to see them and are more likely to feel better about having to spend a double block in your classroom. I found this to be a simple but powerful practice for developing positive relationships with students.
5. Create an awesome classroom – Don’t be a slob! There is nothing worse in my mind than walking into an untidy and drab classroom. I’m not saying that you stress over decoration and such, but…invest in a broom. Janitors (at least in New York City) have a lot of classrooms to sweep, and you’ll be their darling if you help them out. Buy some hardy plants. It is amazing what a few plants will do to a classroom; they add vibrancy and good green energy. Organize, organize, organize so that everything in your classroom serves a purpose and students and you know where things are. Create a space for art – your own or someone else’s. And lastly, ask students to clean up after themselves at the end of class. It’s amazing how much trash they can generate and leave behind if you don’t remind them to be responsible community members. An awesome classroom is more conducive to inspired teaching and learning. Believe me, people will want to come into your classroom just to admire it!
These are some simple but effective tips for new and old teachers. More to come…