“A Teacher’s Primer”
Advice for the Ambitious
Observations from experiences as a teacher—and a student!
An Effective Environment for Student Learning…
… encourages learning and thought
through diverse activities.
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.