“A Teacher’s Primer”
Advice for the Ambitious
Observations from experiences as a teacher—and a student!

Shira Karp
Stanford Teacher Education Program



An Effective Environment for Student Learning…

… encourages learning and thought through diverse activities.
… provides content in a manner that builds on students’ strengths.
… makes each student feel valued, respected, and listened to.
… gives each student a chance to engage with the material.
… maintains a sufficient level of discipline to ensure focus.
… provides students with models of proper behavior.


Classroom Policies:

v  Respect punctuality.  If you want kids to be on time, let them go on time.

v  Don’t spring assignments on students.  Give them at least two days’ notice.

v  Give students tasks, not instructions.  Make sure they know what they’re supposed to be accomplishing, and let them judge how.

v  Explain written directions orally.

v  Maintain a policy regarding extensions and make-up work under which you would enjoy working as a student.

v  Require assignments turned in with the same punctuality with which you grade them.

v  Don’t punish students for not doing things that you can’t do.  Staying awake in class during crunch season comes to mind.

v  Take full and complete responsibility for the equipment.  It’s the law.

v  Don’t post signs near the trash can or pencil sharpener.  Kids will stop to read them and forget to sit down again.

v  When someone asks a comprehension question during a test, share the answer with the entire class.  Chances are five other people have the same question.

v  If you have at least one student who is still learning English, phrase all test questions in the simplest manner possible.  (Also try including pictures.)


At the Front of the Room:

v  Don’t stand in the front of the room all the time.  Pace through the rows of desks and make eye contact with everybody.

v  Watch the clock.  Don’t ask too many questions at once.

v  Standardize wait time for oral questions.  Give the deliberate speakers a chance to think.

v  As you encourage kids to answer your questions, don’t let them get sidetracked into thoughtless guessing.

v  When you say, “Good,” explain why it’s good.

v  Incorporate students’ answers into your next comment.  Intellectually and verbally acknowledge that they’ve spoken.

v  Be an authority.  Let the kids know who’s in charge.

v  Don’t make eye contact with a kid who’s looking for trouble.

v  Do make eye contact with a kid who’s giving an answer or asking a question.

v  Learn to recognize on-topic sass and off-topic sass.  Then ignore the off-topic sass.

v  Set guidelines for behavior early and always enforce them.

v  Enforce your expectations for language in the classroom.  Give extra etymology assignments if necessary.

v  Enforce a zero-tolerance policy regarding insults, hate-speech, and violence.

v  Do your best to catch kids who make fun of others.  Students may hate your class for reasons other than your lovely self and your fascinating content.

v  Warn kids about consistent behavior expectations before they leave the classroom.  The library excursion is not a day away from school.

v  If you can’t follow through, don’t threaten.

v  Don’t humiliate kids in front of the class.

v  Don’t make kids choose between their pride and your evaluation.

v  Pick your battles.  Enforce the important rules with an iron hand, and let the rest slide.

v  Play the game better than the kids do.  If they purposefully screw around in order to waste time, make them make up that time.

v  Watch your temper!  Be aware of your “buttons” and don’t let kids push them.

v  Cater to the bleeding-heart liberals and refrain from calling your students loving names.

v  As soon as possible after disciplining a student, find an excuse to give that student positive feedback about their work.

v  When someone asks a question, especially a comprehension question, don’t get overexcited.  Sometimes a three-word answer is all they need.

v  Practice saying, “You’re right, I should have explained it like…”

v  Practice saying, “I don’t know.  I will look it up tonight and get back to you tomorrow.”

v  Practice saying, “Does anyone have anything to add to ***’s answer?”



v  Keep it real.  Don’t lose yourself in the abstractions.

v  Don’t get stuck in a lecture funk.  Vary the activities and incorporate mixed learning methods.

v  Give the kids as many chances as possible to get up and move around.  Release that bottled-up energy constructively.

v  Balance the need to go over the exercises and the need not to bore the class, especially when one exercise is exactly the same as the next.

v  Make sure you’ve covered all necessary instructions before you pass out the cool toys.  Then cut to the chase immediately.

v  Leave room in the syllabus for extensions of topics.  Not all of the students will meet your learning goals the first time through.

v  Debunk myths and faulty processes early on.  Pseudologic is an easy trap to fall into.

v  Don’t require in-depth analysis of a process before the key concepts have been covered.  In science, this translates to, “Open your unit with a demonstration, not a lab.”



v  Don’t pick activities because you find them relaxing.

v  Always overplan.  Make sure there’s something for everybody to do in every moment of the class.

v  Overprepare your subject.  You have a college degree for a reason.

v  If an activity involves manual tasks, practice them beforehand yourself.

v  Check in all equipment a week in advance, so that if something is missing, you have time to requisition it.

v  Get a desk filing system to keep papers from different periods straight.



v  Use literacy strategies all year long, not as a one-time game.

v  Consider the wisdom of lecturing to students about experiments they can’t observe or replicate.

v  In group discussions, consider dividing students into “deliberate” and “spontaneous” groups and letting each talk at its own speed.

v  Consider saving the discussion until after they’re engaged.

v  Make a checklist of the most important ideas for each unit.  Make sure everybody learns every concept on that list, and don’t sweat the rest.



v  Make sure everybody understands before going on to the next concept.  Eschew the “ruptured firehose” model of teaching.

v  Be scrupulously organized.

v  Be incredibly structured.

v  Be an expert.  Balance the need for the kids to find the answers themselves and the need for them to have the right answers in order to complete the assigned tasks.

v  Be empathetic.  Exhaustion, overwork, and frustration are emotions you are very familiar with.

v  Be enthusiastic—but don’t be a cheerleader.  Kids have incredible eyes for phoniness.

v  Approach the curriculum from multiple perspectives.

v  Encourage open dialogue.

v  Research local culture.  Ask lots of questions and don’t assume anything.

v  Try not to impose your values on others, explicitly or implicitly.

v  Resist the temptation to hate kids who hate you.  It solves nothing.

v  Love your students and want them to succeed.  Don’t be the enemy.