Actually, this should be called, “What you need to know before your first day as a teacher” since the original title, while pithy in its similarity to the title of a recent post, assumes (a) that every teacher went to teacher school (I didn’t!), and (b) that something you learned there may have some relevance to your actual job. Your mileage may vary with (b).
- Be interested. No, that’s not a typo. I don’t want you to worry too much about being interesting because that’ll take care of itself. And, let’s be honest, you just can’t force that. So start out your first year in the classroom by being interested — really interested. And please, for the students’ sake, show them that you’re interested in more than just your content area. You’ve got a passion (presumably) so don’t be afraid to let it come out in who you are in the classroom. In one of my all-time favorite blog posts ever, Russell Davies says, “The way to be interesting is to be interested.” Sound advice. See also.
- Be a learner. Unless your content area is “literature of Ancient Greece,” things in your area are probably changing with the times. When I took Earth Science, for example, Pluto was still a planet. More than that, the ways that we interact with our students are changing. And the ways that students interact with the world are changing. You’ll likely never catch up to where your students are in terms of comfort with technology, but the best teachers are the ones who are the Lead Learners in the classroom. They take what kids know and think they know about technology tools and help them use it as an effective tool to do more than update their Facebook status with what they had for lunch that day. Note: The best way for teachers to learn is not necessarily through one-size-fits-all professional development sessions. Read a lot. Create an account on Google Reader or Netvibes and subscribe not only to education blogs, but blogs about what you’re passionate about (remember the first tip I gave you?). And also, keep it in balance and subscribe to blogs that you don’t necessarily agree with. Preaching to choir is always fun, but it can be a dangerous habit. Network with colleagues who have been doing it longer and who are doing it differently. Find an administrator you trust and see how he or she is willing to help support your professional growth.
- Avoid like the plague negative people and their efforts to recruit you. Misery loves company. This is true at all levels. You’ll find negative teachers in the lounge and negative administrators in the front office. You’ll know the ones as they’re fairly easy to spot. Their attitude is generally that students are a nuisance to be dealt with and they view their job as laying out a buffet of knowledge from which students can choose whether or not to partake. Their syllabi usually read like the state penal code. You’ll see a lot of “Do nots” and “No exceptions” in their classroom expectations. In fact, you probably won’t see a section called “Expectations” so look for the section called “Rules and Consequences.” The administrators may have cute, witty things in their offices like an urn on their bookshelf that oh-so-humorously reads, “Ashes of Problem Students,” or an old-fashioned paddle engraved with the words, “The Enforcer.” Forget any discourse about the messages these “jokes” send to students, parents, or community members who may have occasion to see them and who may not share their owner’s sense of gallows humor… Negative people want nothing more than to perpetuate their negative energy. Seek out teachers and administrators who enjoy working with kids and have a positive world view. They’re out there, and more common than you think, but they’re usually doing something good for kids instead of complaining about how no one else is.
- Have fun. Don’t confuse this with “be funny” because they’re not the same thing. And by “fun,” I don’t mean pizza party or Friday Free Day. You’ve chosen a very serious job with a serious responsibility. You’ve accepted the challenge of teaching the next generation. They will have to go out there after you’re finished with them and make the world a better place. So take the job seriously, but not yourself. Show a funny YouTube video, sponsor the sophomore class, smile, and love your job.
- Just because you can do something with technology doesn’t mean you should do it with technology. Do you need a wiki intervention? You know who you are.
It’s not an exhaustive list, but that should get you started. You’ll notice I didn’t include anything about where to find discipline referrals or how to access the copier. You’ll get all that stuff from your new boss on your first day of orientation. I also didn’t share my philosophy on discipline and how you work with kids, but that’s been done before by me and others. This is some of the other stuff that’s been on my mind for a while. And spending time with new and preservice teachers, I’m sure there will be more that follows.
Coming soon: What you need to know before your first day as an administrator…