A Veteran's Advice for Newbie Teachers - JennieGScott.com
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A Veteran’s Advice for Newbie Teachers

Fourteen years ago, I taught my first group of students, and recently I gave some advice to a practicum student under my supervision. Poor guy – he probably doesn’t realize that classroom experience doesn’t qualify me as an expert or even mean I halfway feel confident in what I’m doing.

Nonetheless, I decided to compile a list of my best advice. If you’re a new teacher, here you go. I’m hitting you with my best shot:
1. Forget approximately 56% of everything your university just taught you. It’s theoretical methodology that only holds water in ideal conditions with high-achieving, issue-less students. The students you face will not follow the formula, and each must be treated individually. There is no “one size fits all” method for your wee ones. Take bits and pieces of the best theories and combine them with your teacher’s intuition. A teacher’s gut is better than an untried theory any day.
2. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If your kids are hungry, exhausted, or stressed from their parents’ all night screaming fests, they can’t learn. Period. Fix what you can and love them through what you can’t. If their basic needs aren’t being met, your love will have a much greater effect on them than any standard ever legislated. Be their safe place, and you will have made a difference.
3. Be funny. Only poor classroom managers say things like “You can’t smile until after Christmas.” If you can’t laugh in a room full of children and simultaneously maintain control, you should never have been awarded a teaching certificate. 
4. Decorate your classroom. You will literally be locked in those four walls for hours at a time. Create for yourself (and your children) a haven that reflects your personality. Your school kids want to see pictures of your home kids, and they need something interesting to look at when you bore them. Which you will. (Sometimes you’re boring. No offense. You’ll even bore yourself). Teach long enough, and I promise you’ll start to sound like the Charlie Brown teacher even to yourself. 
5. Never try to start a diet during the school year. Caffeine and sugar are food groups that will sustain you in this profession, and trying to give them up will only give you unbelievable headaches and a case of the grumps that will make your students (and colleagues) beg for mercy. Do everyone a favor and eat a Snickers. You’re not yourself when you’re hungry.
6. Stop trying to grade everything. Collect it all and assess only what’s most important. If you try to grade everything they create, you will be a crazy person by week two. Trust me – I know. (Read this if you’re currently trying to do it all. It will free you.)
7. Know that being nice doesn’t mean being easy. Push those little boogers until they plead for mercy. They can work harder than they think they can, and they will never know how much they can accomplish until they have no other option. Forget giving them “Free Fridays” and “Ketchup Days.” (Click here to read my thoughts on such things. Don’t get me started. Don’t even get me started). Don’t reward laziness and a lack of responsibility with extra time to complete assignments or entire school days to play board games. When was the last time you were given Friday off just because you worked hard Monday through Thursday? Aren’t we supposed to be preparing these kids for life? Jobs? Maturity? Come on, now. 
If you didn't get the grade you wanted, it's highly possible I didn't get the work I wanted.:
8. Learn the names of your janitors, secretaries, and support staff. They make the school run, and when you hypothetically lock your keys inside your classroom for the third time in a week, they will smile and unlock the door if you know their names and speak to them like the people they are as they sweep the floor of your trashed room. If you think you’re better than they are, you need to quit teaching and work the long, thankless hours they do so you understand. (BTW – Mrs. Lizzie no longer cleans my room, and I am devastated. She would come in and we’d talk about books, my favorite thing. She always checked them out of my classroom library, and she’d take some for her granddaughter. Bless. I miss that lady).
9. For the love of paper clips and Rubbermaid containers – get yourself organized. You do not have enough hours in the day to be fumbling around trying to find the answer key you created for the vocabulary quiz. Spend time up front creating yourself a system, then use the heck out of it. You will love yourself for doing so, and your students will be grateful that you know exactly where their make-up work is. 
10. Use Google Drive. Thumb drives are so 2007. Google, that blessed miracle of technology, lets you access your files from ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. Begin a document at school and finish it at home. It’s a wonder. If  you don’t know how to use it, email me. Seriously. No shame here – you will drop to your knees and praise Jesus when you realize how handy the old internets can be. 
11. Get a hobby. I love to read, write, and run, and if I neglect any of them for very long, I become very grouchy and my husband begins to ask questions like, “Do you want me to watch the kids so you can go run?” Do something to unwind. You could devote 24 hours a day to teaching and lesson planning and emailing parents and grading. Don’t. There’s a time and place for working your tail off, and there’s a time to let it go. (Stop singing Frozen. Seriously. Let it go). Let yourself be just you for a little while each day. You will be a much better teacher (and spouse and parent and friend) if you take off your teacher hat every now and then.
12. Don’t analyze the kids’ permanent records before you meet them. Seeing test scores and guidance reports and custody arrangements will give you preconceived (and perhaps wrong) ideas and will subconsciously impact your treatment of that child. Let the kids, not the documents, give you first impressions.
13. Wear comfortable shoes. (I am very bad at this. Teaching high school freshmen makes me want to be cute and fashionable, so I make unwise footwear choices. Case in point – today I wore tall wedges. My feet now look as swollen as they did when I was 36 weeks pregnant. I regret my vanity).
14. Only praise sincerely. Don’t say their work/effort/answer is good if it isn’t. If you dole out empty words, you will lose their respect (and invite mediocre work). Praise them when appropriate and encourage more work/effort/answers when it isn’t. 
15. Be OK with students not making all A’s. All A’s don’t make you a good teacher, and I used to fall into the trap of thinking they did. A’s should indicate mastery, so if your students aren’t yet experts on the material, they should not receive an A. If your students immediately master everything you “teach” and never struggle or need any remediation, are you even really teaching? 
16. Avoid the negative Nancy (Nancies?) in your building. You need people to lift and bolster you, not beat down and depress you. Find the hot-air balloon personalities and hitch a ride. Ditch the anvils. Ain’t nobody got time to hear all the complaints. Be a solution-maker, not a complaint-giver.
17. Buy stock in Post-it notes. Seriously. You will think of the most random things in the middle of teaching, and if you don’t jot them down on the yellow squares that substitute for your memory, you will forget to buy toilet paper on the way home. 
18. Keep a file called “Why I Teach” because some days, you’ll need a reminder. Keep those notes, drawings, and emails. When you get down, these will lift you. You’re in it for those highlight-reel moments, and if you’re not intentional about remembering them, they’ll get lost in the tough times.
19. Make your students think and not just regurgitate facts. This world needs people who question the status quo and who don’t automatically believe what presidential candidates say just because they’re on television. We need out-of-the-box thinkers and people who approach problems from an angle not previously considered. (Hint – this means your tests should not just be multiple choice – even though they’re faster to grade.)
20. Talk about what you read. Each day, I open class with an excerpt of something I’ve recently read. I’ve shared novels, nonfiction best sellers, articles from ESPN . . . Remind your students – daily – that literacy is the key to the world you’re preparing them to enter. Words – and the stories they create – bring people together and show us our commonalities, and sharing words is the fastest way to create community in a classroom. Give your students a word-rich environment that’s exciting and fresh, and with any luck, they’ll want to recreate one for themselves. 
So there you have it. You’re in an incredible profession, and even though it’s demanding and under a microscope, you can rest at night knowing that kids’ lives are different because of your impact. (Well, you can rest if you know it’s a good impact. Don’t be that teacher who’s remembered 30 years later for being a complete jerk. Don’t be that guy). Do what you do the best that you can, and just love the kids. Laugh with them, challenge them, and be a real person to them. That’s what they need – real laughs, real challenges, and real love. Maybe there is a formula to this teaching thing after all
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  • Benita James
    Posted at 22:14h, 21 September Reply

    Absolutely Awesome!

  • Benita James
    Posted at 22:14h, 21 September Reply

    Absolutely Awesome!

  • Unknown
    Posted at 15:07h, 22 September Reply

    I am going to share this with my student teachers. Your words of wisdom speaks volumes!

  • Jennie Scott
    Posted at 20:59h, 23 September Reply

    Thank you so much!

  • Jennie Scott
    Posted at 20:59h, 23 September Reply

    Thanks, Benita!

  • Kenn Ball
    Posted at 23:03h, 24 September Reply

    Hey, I think I know that guy! 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to write this post. I'll still have my printed copy handy long after most of my education textbooks are packed in boxes in my garage. If this kind of wisdom doesn't qualify you as an expert, I'm not sure what does.

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