As I look back on a teaching career that lasted nearly 40 years, I see many things I did right—and a many more that could have done with some improvement (or elimination). Bear in mind that I worked entirely with secondary students. Here are some random observations that might or might not prove useful to someone just starting out today. (God help you! I and others like me had it a lot easier than you will/are.)
LESSON PLANS are that: plans. And plans change. Sometimes a spontaneous “teaching moment” occurs and you’d be a fool to lose it just because it does not fit the plan of the day. You are scheduled to teach “The Masque of the Red Death” but the first snowfall of the season has just occurred? Switch to Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Or channel the excitement that a major change in the weather always brings to the classroom by having students write about their own experiences/memories. Share them. Poe will still be there.
DISCIPLINE is always a major concern with new teachers. We shake in our boots at the thought of losing control. The most effective discipline technique I know of is this: Keep students busy with meaningful work. The key word there is meaningful. If you think “busy work” will keep them occupied, you are in for a sad struggle. Students will see right through that in a heartbeat! And, no, I am not suggesting that all drill work (as in using the German articles—der, die, das—in a number of phrases) is meaningless. Planning effective activities takes more work on the part of the teacher. It is much harder to come up with hypothetical cases for mock debates when studying the Bill of Rights than it is to “answer question 2, 3, 5, 11, and 17 at the end of the chapter.” But your students will probably learn more.
And when you do encounter a fractious student? Trust me, it truly is when, not if! Use the big guns—counselors or the principal—as a last resort. Try reasoning with the little ba—uh—student first. But do remember to have him or her seated. I learned the hard way that it is very difficult to chastise someone when you have to crane your neck to look up at him!
BUY THE YEARBOOKS at least every other year. I kick myself at least twice a week for not having done this more consistently. I see something on Facebook or get an email out of the blue and I want to see who that person was in my previous life. Alas . . . Buy the yearbooks.
There’s more. Much more.
Maybe I’ll write a book someday . . .