50 Things New Teachers Need To Know

[Update: Please be sure to also check out 50 MORE Things New Teachers Need To Know.]

 

Now that August is here, I’m thinking about the imminent start of the new school year.  For years I’ve watched new teachers start their first year with no clue about how to manage all that gets thrown at them, and I’ve wanted to have something to give them, samizdat style, that lets them in on what really matters, what really works, and what they should studiously ignore.  This list represents a first draft effort at some of those ideas.

Minor disclaimer: I’m a high school English teacher in Las Vegas.  Therefore, my advice is specifically shaped by that background.  To the degree that your experience differs from mine, take these suggestions with a grain of salt.  For instance, a new third grade teacher in Vermont may not find this very helpful at all.  Still, there should be a few ideas in here that anybody could adapt to their use.

 

  1. Sit your desk in the front of the room, not the back: the thinking that students will act more maturely if they don’t know if you’re looking at them is wrong–they couldn’t care less.  Also, make sure there is enough room by the back wall for you to walk around behind them if you need to.  Letting students sit up against the back wall, with no other access than from coming down an aisle, is asking for trouble.  “Creative” seating arrangements, except in rare circumstances like class discussions and debates, don’t work: just arrange them in ranks and files. 
  2. As the year starts, you’ll be overwhelmed by the paperwork and routines your administrators demand.  Ask a couple of people who have been at your campus for a while what’s really important to them: most of that rigmarole is just your administrators doing what their bosses told them to do; they don’t care about it any more than you do.  Veterans at your school can tell you what you can safely ignore.  You have enough to worry about without jumping through hoops for the office.
  3. Kids will complain all the time, about everything, and there’s not much you can do about it.  Learn to screen out the groans, the whining, the muttered complaints of “boring” and “sucks.”  Don’t take it personally, because they don’t mean it personally.  They’ve been trained by the media and their hormones to automatically hate everything at school.  Just go ahead with your lesson anyway.  They’ll be fine.
  4. Every time you get a note or an email from a parent thanking you–or saying anything positive at all–print it out and save it in a file where you keep things like your teaching license, contract, and resume.  When somebody complains to your supervisor about how you do your job–which, if you’re doing it right, they will–providing copies of such recommendations might come in handy.
  5. All “staff development” and “teacher in service” days exist to promote fads.  If you get to attend a really useful one every two years or so, count yourself lucky.  You might have to go through the motions of adopting some gimmick presented at one of these meetings, but don’t worry–everybody will forget about it soon enough and go back to normal.  Don’t feel bad about skipping some of these if you can get away with it so you can do something actually productive: planning rigorous lessons and editing papers.
  6. I say “editing papers” because it’s more constructive than “grading papers.”  Written assignments should be graded like this: Read through them and mark the first five grammatical/mechanical errors.  Grade the paper based on that much: the style, voice, organization, and, of course, how far you got in the paper before you found five errors.  If five errors appeared within the first half page, make them do it over before you give it a grade. 
  7. Resist the urge to try to edit every error in every paper: there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  For this reason, short assignments are better than long ones, most of the time.  They need drilling, not marathons. 
  8. As much as possible, provide written directions for your assignments to students.  Oral directions alone are worthless, and just putting them on the board isn’t much better.  Students today seem to work best when they have individual copies of instructions, especially if they can keep them.  Also, you’ll be surprised by how many students will understand directions better if you simply explain them directly to them, one on one.  Even if you only repeat exactly what you just said to the whole class, some kids will “get it” better. 
  9. No matter what you teach, read out loud to your class.  A lot.  Most students these days have so little positive experience with reading, and so little ability to realistically “hear” a story in their heads as they read, that this training is truly essential, at any age.  Even for teenagers, move around and use dramatic or silly voices as you read; again, such exaggeration models the kind of active screening of written words that they probably lack.  Your poorest readers will want to watch you instead of reading along.  I used to be a stickler about making them look at the pages of their book, but I’ve since come to think that this is counterproductive for them.
  10. PC Myth #1: “Don’t worry about the smart kids.  They’ll take care of themselves.”  If I had a nickel for every time I heard this lie in college, I’d be able to supplement my income enough now to live like my friends in real estate did a few years ago.  The problem with this line, and a lot of other popular thinking like it, is that so many teachers subscribe to it now that the smart kids have almost nobody left rooting for them.  Their intelligence often gets wasted in our schools, with so few of us willing to challenge and expand it.  Please, do not ignore the smartest kids (even though they may be among your most annoying students). 
  11. The last five minutes of every class should look like this: a quick review of that day’s content (either by calling on a few kids to answer simple questions about what was done that day, or quick written answers done on scratch paper and handed directly to you as they leave), a reminder about that day’s homework (you should also check at the door that they have this written down somewhere, preferably with a time set aside to work on it), and have them help you pick up the room by checking around their own areas for any garbage or materials that need to be put away.  When the bell rings, make a show of inspecting the room, then stand at the door and check their review work (if applicable) and homework reminders as they leave.  If it’s not satisfactory, send them back in to do it correctly.  They’ll learn quickly enough.
  12. “Inspirational” posters are worthless.  Decorate your room with some artwork and some things that reflect your professional personality, but mostly with excellent student work. 
  13. Make lots of referrals to counselors.  Best case scenario: students get useful advice.  Worst case: you can document an intervention that covers your liability if they get in real trouble.
  14. If a student submits work that is illegible, incomplete, or that didn’t follow directions, don’t grade it.  Return it to the student and tell them that they have three days to correct/finish it and resubmit it to you, but emphasize that it’s “on them.”  You won’t remind them again, and if they fail to turn it in, they will get a zero.
  15. Keep a file of IEP and 504 plans you’re given on students.  Highlight the things that you’re obligated to do.  Be sure that you implement them enough to justify compliance if the student still fails or if a parent complains.  This isn’t meant to be derogatory to those students or parents, but most of these accommodations, in my experience, are unnecessary and ultimately counterproductive.  Most of the useful ones are things that, as a good teacher, you do anyway.  However, some parents demand IEP’s and 504’s as ways of “insuring” that their children pass classes, and if they don’t, the parents will come for your head.  Since you can expect no sympathy from the staff at your school (these are, after all, legally binding documents) be ready to defend yourself.  If you can’t explain how you’ve complied with the requirements of a student’s accommodations, you’ll be hot water, and you don’t need that kind of grief.
  16. PC Myth #2: “Students must be comfortable with their environment to learn.”  Horsefeathers!  Learning entails growth and change, which demands sweat.  You don’t need to purposely embarrass students, but you do need to hold them accountable to high standards.  This might take the form of pop quizzes, oral quizzes, or making them re-do poor assignments.  If students fail to turn in an assignment and the class is ready to move on to the next one, make the “slackers” do the first assignment before they’re allowed to progress. 
  17. As soon as possible before school starts, ask the counselors for a student aide.  Every day, have him or her grade at least one set of papers, but make sure it’s something simple: questions from the textbook with concrete answers, or worksheets or quizzes.  Don’t give them writing assignments or anything especially creative to grade, or projects.  Don’t worry about “having one more kid to babysit;” a good student aide is priceless.  Be sure to get him or her something for Christmas and their birthday.
  18. When possible, segregate boys and girls.  Separating students by grade level, race, income, etc. is pointless, but separating them by gender always gets academic results.  If the teacher next door teaches the same subject, consider collaborating on some lessons, and each of you takes all the students of one gender.  Sorry if this offends anyone, but it works.
  19. If some 17-year-old boy enters your class of freshmen, do not sit him next to some 14-year-old girl.  Her father thanks you.
  20. Every subject should require a lot of memorizing.  Not just names and dates, but entire poems and speeches, etc.  You’ll know it’s valuable because they’ll complain bitterly.  It’s when students are complacent that you should worry.
  21. A quick turn-around time on returning graded work is a must.  If this means grading some assignments on completion (which is OK sometimes, if the nature of the assignment is such that simply doing it necessitates doing it right), so be it.  Some assignments can be graded on every other question, etc.  As I said before, keep writing assignments short.  If students get work back in a timely manner, they’re more likely to care about it.  If an assignment comes back after about two weeks and they don’t even remember it anymore, it’s worthless.  Only return assignments that a) they’ll need to study, or b) they put a lot of effort into (or should have).  Not all work is worth keeping track of.
  22. Keep some blank greeting cards in your desk to scribble notes on for students who need cheering up or special congratulations, etc.  Get Thomas Kinkade covers if you can.
  23. When studying a play as a class, do not assign parts and have them read out loud.  They’re terrible at it, and it will kill the play.  If your department doesn’t have audio performances of the play for them to listen to while they read along, your public library will.
  24. Please, please, please don’t show a lot of videos.  Whenever you do, make sure there’s a graded assignment tied into it, even if it’s just listing ten facts from a documentary, or filling in a Venn diagram comparing a film to a novel.  No work = no accountability = no learning.  I can’t think of any good reason to devote more than three hours per quarter to videos. 
  25. Avoid group work.  They’ll usually just copy or play around.  Or both.  People who insist that students need practice “cooperating” and “working with others” are wrong.  They already know how to manipulate such systems and blend in.  They need practice being focused and responsible.  If you do give group work, please make sure that each individual has a specific product or element of the whole for which to be responsible and graded on.
  26. If you’re teaching punctuality, or if you simply want to lessen your load of papers to grade, don’t accept late work.  However, if your priority is educating students about the content of your field, then you must learn to deal with it.  Of course you’ll only accept it one day late, and for half credit, but even then you should be willing to make exceptions.  It’s not fair to you, I know, but if you cared about fair, you wouldn’t be a teacher.
  27. PC Myth #3: “All students can learn.”  Well, maybe they can, but many won’t.  Everybody loves an underdog, and you’ve probably been inspired by some movie where a misfit teacher doesn’t give up on some slacker with a heart of gold until said slacker unleashes their amazing hidden talent and excels.  In the real world, we can’t afford to dwell on those who choose to fail.  In any given class, about 5%-15% of the students will be unreachable.  Don’t waste your time trying to “save” them.  Meanwhile, the majority of your students are getting C’s and D’s when they really should be getting A’s and B’s.  Those students, the fat middle part of the bell curve, should be your priority.  Teach them.
  28. Administrators might insist that you have your lesson plans ready far in advance, which is pointless.  It’s too easy to look a month ahead and plan something so ambitious that it will never work.  Then, when that day comes, you’re stuck with a pipe dream that you can’t actually implement.  The best lesson plans are written two days in advance.  I suggest preparing some pages of generic lesson plans ready to show off at a moment’s notice so they’ll think you’re jumping through their hoops.  Life is just too fluid and unpredictable to plan further ahead than that and set details down in stone.  Be ready to adapt and improvise!
  29. However, you should plan your year like this: before school starts, chart out which novels, units, projects, major objectives, etc. you want to hit each quarter.  As that quarter approaches, add detail to your chart by breaking it down into each of the nine weeks, and add more specific goals and assignments at this time to build toward the major ones you outlined before: this is where you pencil in the smaller assignments that eventually become daily lesson plans.  This will make your “two days ahead” planning much easier.
  30. Have routines: every Friday morning is for independent reading, every other Tuesday is for literary response journals, Monday is for grading last week’s work in class and returning it, every Friday at the end of class is for notebook checks, the last two days of the first half of each quarter are for reviewing for unit tests, etc.  This will help big time with lesson planning.
  31. Never let students be in your classroom when you’re not there.  Lock your door when you’re out.
  32. Mentoring is the ultimate teaching.  Model the kind of adult you want your students to become: carry books around with you, don’t swear, discuss world events, etc. 
  33. If a student is copying another student’s paper, take both papers and give them zeroes.  Do this even if the papers were for another class, and give them to that other teacher.  Further punishment than this is not productive.
  34. Post on your board that you will not accept any kind of late work or even discuss grades during the last week of each quarter.  This will save your sanity.
  35. Have a file set aside somewhere to put papers with no names on them, for students to look through when they wonder why they got a zero on something “they swear they turned in.”  Give them half credit when they find it in there.
  36. Let them prepare an index card of notes to use on major exams.  This is about the only way to get them to study.
  37. Fewer projects, more writing.  Projects don’t teach nearly as much as we’d like to think they do, and they need more practice writing, anyway.
  38. Wake them up with a warning the first time they fall asleep.  Don’t yell or bang anything to do it, just nudge their shoulder with your knuckles. 
  39. Cell phones and iPods are evil.  Period.  Get yourself a reputation as an inveterate hater of all electronic toys in the classroom.
  40. Unless you’re reading out loud to them, there is never a good reason for you to be talking for more than five minutes at a time.  If they’re not working hard independently, they’re not learning.
  41. PC Myth #4: “Students must be able to relate to content to understand or care about it.”  How condescending!  They’re not here to be pandered to, to have their warped, manufactured view of the world reinforced.  They’re here to expand their horizons.  That means intellectual humility borne of introspection brought on by exposure to challenging new ideas.  Shock and awe, baby.
  42. Bloom’s taxonomy is useful for planning assignments, but the “multiple intelligences” theory is not.  Every student wants to be a “people-oriented communicator,” and thinks they are…but they aren’t.  This world revolves around numbers and written words, and the things that radiate from them, and to the degree that we diverge from that in our training of our students, we do them a disservice.
  43. Keep a journal where you record funny moments in your class, memories of students who genuinely gained something from you, photos of themselves at dances that they give you, and anything else that’s positive.  It will save you when you’re ready to tear your hair out.
  44. The perfect balance between professional and approachable behavior is impossible.  In general, lean towards more professional.  Assume that every student is out to get you; don’t give them anything to use against you.  This might appear extreme, but after your first few angry parents, you’ll learn to be cautious.
  45. Most students will need very frequent grade updates to stay at all motivated.
  46. Go into every parent conference armed with copies of updated grade reports, recent samples of the student’s work, and any disciplinary paperwork related to the student.  If they have an IEP or 504, bring it and be ready to explain how you’ve complied with it.
  47. If you have a problem with a student, email their other teachers for advice: someone knows how to deal with him.  If the student is in ROTC or plays a sport, go to the officers or coaches.  They will get you results fast. 
  48. Detention is rarely worth it.  If you do make a student come in, make them use the time to do homework for your class, or clean your room.
  49. Collect homework as soon as the day starts.  Anyone who was “finishing” it after that gets half credit.
  50. Never, ever, ever take any work home with you.
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92 comments on “50 Things New Teachers Need To Know

  1. Your list runs counter to what I see as the predominant education theory. Good for you. From what I can see your way works and most education fads such as multiple intelligences and group project learning does not. Keep it up.

    Tom Linehan

  2. I found your site via Joanne Jacobs – lots of comments there on your list, not all approving. I think it’s a good list. I would probably disagree with some things, but I teach math, not English, and college, not high school, so much of what you say would not directly apply.

    Write a book! You’ve got a good start. Every one of those suggestions has a context, and context is important. And I’m sure every one of those suggestions has a history. Others would profit from knowing some details. And every suggestion has a rationale. Explain it! Of course writing a book is a big job, with little expected return. There are not many books that tell it like it is. The education schools do not want to tell it like it is. I doubt if they have much of an idea how it is. “The Reluctant Disciplinarian” by Gary Rubinstein is a helpful and realistic book on discipline, but there needs to be many more.

  3. THANK YOU. It’s bedtime, and I’ve only gotten about to #20, but already I’m feeling much better about what I’m doing in the classroom than I was fifteen minutes ago. The ‘hey, he says that’s good, and it’s something I do!’ really made my evening.

    Sometimes it’s much easier to fixate on what more I should be doing than on what I’m already doing. And let’s face it – there’s always more!

  4. Great advice! I especially like #47. As the speech/debate/drama sponsor, I am very interested in the students in my activity staying eligible to participate and if a teacher lets me know a student is struggling, I can usually talk to the student and eke out some extra time for them to do the work they need to do for the other teacher. Usually, the student is struggling because they are not completing work.

  5. You’re going to get a lot of negative responses to this list, but I agree with nearly every point you made!

    I try to think back to when I was in school and ask myself what my teachers did that worked and what didn’t. For example, when it came to group work, I was the one who did all the work, and the entire group got an “A” for it. The only students who actually enjoyed group work were the slackers. I’m in my late twenties, but I don’t think my own students are so different from me. Every year I ask my students what they think of certain teaching techniques. Much as I suspected, group work provokes an extreme negative reaction from the majority of the class. So, I rarely give group work, and when I do, it’s usually for review, as a part of a timed contest with prizes for the winners, but no grade attached. And seriously, exactly what future jobs are we preparing them for with group work?

    I also ask myself what sort of tricks I or other students had to “play” our teachers. I assume my own students have already thought of these tricks, so early on in the year I tell them to the students and make sure they know that I am looking out for them. For example, when we’re reviewing punctuation, I mention the apostrophe that floats directly above the “s” so that the teacher can’t tell whether the student means for the word to be plural possessive or singular possessive. I used to do that when I wasn’t sure where to put the mark, thinking the teacher would give me the benefit of the doubt, and she usually did. I also use examples related to behavior, excuses for late works, etc. For some reason, the kids think it’s hilarious when I go down the list of ways they think they can fool me, but it seems to work. They rarely do the things on my list. Of course, every year students come up with new tricks, but those just go on the list for next year.

  6. Very helpful advice. I teach college math, so not all your points are directly applicable, but I agree with virtually every tip you’ve listed.

    Regarding a snoozing student: This past summer Sleeping Beauty was in my class. (He even managed to slumber halfway through a two-hour final, and then when I gave the five-minute warning he acted surprised that he only had an hour instead of the two allotted.) I had never experienced that particular problem before so I was unprepared to deal with it. I’m in the process of thinking how to handle similar situations in the future, but I suspect that your suggestion might be too mild. I need one of those long sticks with a wooden knob that the Puritans supposedly used in lengthy church service to maintain order with rowdy boys – that just might do the trick.

  7. @askeladd
    I don’t know about your particular student, but illness _can_ be the reason why. Being too harsh might be unfair and will definitely ruin his year. Have a look at sleeping disorders. They’re not very well known. You can start with narcolepsy for exemple.

    I’m not saying that’s why every single student fall asleep in class, but for a few ones it might be why (whether they are aware of it or not). So try to know if there is a reason before labeling him “lazy”. Thanks.

  8. Regarding sleeping in class–

    My best friend used to. Her abusive mother kept her up all night to listen to her drunken rants. Sometimes tiredness is a symptom of abuse, and needs to be reported. In fact, I think sleeping in class should always be reported to child authorities, because either the parents are keeping the kid awake, or they’re not taking adequate care of the child to make sure they rest.

    As for your list, it is absolutely amazing. I love it. I think as a teacher you are spot on. I can see how parents may be angry about the list, because you’re essentially saying you can’t tailor make your lessons to each child, and kids have to fit into your mold. And a parent won’t like that. But you’re right. To teach effectively, you have to do it your way.

    Unfortunately, some parents have a point. Their kids aren’t being taught appropriately for their learning style/intelligence level. But that is not something the school system can solve. The system has to teach to the majority, and some are going to fall through the cracks. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

    The fault is the system’s, not the teacher’s. So perhaps we need to rethink the way we do education entirely. But until then, follow your rules.

    And I love the one about reading aloud. We still read aloud as a family. My husband reads aloud to me. It’s wonderful.

  9. @Nod

    True, there could be a physical affliction at play, which I shall note for future reference. In this case, however, I highly suspect that it was a prime example of “8 a.m. syndrome.”

  10. An excellent list which I wish had been covered during my teacher training, rather than some of the nonsense I had to suffer through!

    I’m currently trying to write up some of my thoughts on my first year in teaching, and this list will certainly appear. I particularly like number 28:

    The best lesson plans are written two days in advance.

    I agree with this wholeheartedly.

  11. These tips are awesome! With the amount of work that the teachers of today have to accomplish daily, I’d like to add one more tip to the list! Always carry a planner to record your to dos, lesson plans, appointments, and more. One you use a Day-Timer® Planner, you won’t be able to live without one! Visit http://www.daytimer.com for tons of planner options plus loads of other cool gadgets that teachers love.

  12. Geez, “timeblogger,” you even put the little “registered” symbol after the brand name. What a pathetically transparent shill. Glad you saw my post as an opportunity for some blatant self promotion. But I guess you guys must be getting pretty desperate now that Blackberry has all but made your products obsolete. And hey, thanks for reading!

  13. A couple of things you stated were good: keeping happy notes and pictures, and reading out loud to the kiddos. Much of your list is really depressing though. I think you could write a great book on tips, but some of your advice is very narrow minded. You should look in to some research-based practices– not all are just fads; most of them put some specific details necessary for success into strategies we already use. Group work isn’t awful, and students shouldn’t hate it–that is if it’s implemented correctly. Students shouldn’t be miserable in the classroom, and while some will always be groaners, the kids should be having fun while they learn. You may want to update your strategies. I found that the book BEST PRACTICE: TODAY’S STANDARDS FOR TEACHING AND LEARNING IN AMERICA’S SCHOOLS by Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde is pretty awesome and helped me refine some strategies. I try to make learning literature enjoyable, while still keeping rigor in the assignments and projects. And happy, comfy kids in the classroom really do learn more. :) It’s not easy being a caring teacher, but it is so worth it.

  14. Nicole, thank you for commenting, but good grief, could you sound any more self righteous? Read your comment again; do you really mean to say that a teacher who isn’t wearing rose colored glasses doesn’t care?

    I care about the education and future success of my students more than I care about their comfort in the here and now. I care about promoting the overall excellence of the next generation of this great country.

    Kids should be comfy and have fun, you say. Sure, and in a perfect world, everybody gets a pony. When a majority of young people come into our classrooms dead set on hating school (What? No! Shocking! I refuse to believe it!) we need to make a choice: is our priority to give them an enjoyable experience, or is our priority to educate them? If both can happen, then great, but when you have to choose, a truly good teacher will opt for effective education every time. It’s never meant to be hard or boring for its own sake, but it absolutely is designed to get the job done as best as possible.

    You mention one book in conjunction with your advocacy of “research-based practices,” but that book isn’t about research, it’s about the very fads I deplore. The actual research by long term, comprehensive studies in education (read Classroom Instruction That Works) and by cognitive scientists (the new Why Don’t Students Like School? is great) clearly show that all the popular buzzwords and trends of the last few decades are worthless. Bottom line, the only people who believe in multiple intelligences and group work and such are the insulated theorists who live inside education’s touchy-feely bubble.

    On the bright side, though, you’ve given me a new item for my updated list of advice for new teachers: “Beware of the so-called experts.”

  15. Huston,

    Maybe since we’re from opposite ends of the U.S. we’re coming from opposite ends of the teaching spectrum. I have had very few students who come in to my room hating school, only hating busy work and redundancy; maybe my experiences just don’t relate to yours. I hate that you think I sound self-righteous, but I wasn’t the one who initiated the list– I just posted a comment. I’m familiar with CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION THAT WORKS, but I don’t agree with everything it recommends, and WHY DON’T STUDENTS LIKE SCHOOL is one I’ll look in to. I’m so glad I inspired a new item on the list; I hope it proves to be an effective strategy for new teachers. Good luck in your endeavors.

    Nicole

  16. Nicole, you may be on to something. I’ve never lived anywhere else, but I’ve heard an infinite number of parents who’ve moved their families here tell me how horrified they are by the lazy, hedonistic, violent mindset rampant in Las Vegas. Clearly, this is not the healthiest spot in our country; and all those parents pine for the values of the east coast. I’ve long protested that Las Vegas is in trouble because it’s home to the worst parents in America.

    Good luck to you in all of your work. May all of our students be successful.

  17. This list has a few good things but it is clear that you are jaded. Especially by saying that all PD is crap. How do you learn new things to teach in the classroom and energize your teaching or are you giving the same assignments that you gave twenty years ago? I am sorry you are not teaching your students how to work in groups, this is one of the most desired skills by employers today.

    My students do both group work and independent work. They need to learn how to work well with others. Maybe you might have a better view of the state of education if you left the small bubble you have been working in.

  18. Beth, “jaded?” If that means that I don’t wear the rose-colored glasses that seem to blind so many of my colleagues, then I’m guilty as charged. What’s with everybody who assumes that someone who’s honest about the negative aspects of our profession must be ineffective or uncaring? My experience shows that the more cynical teachers tend to care about their students more, and help them achieve greater success. It’s the starry-eyed hippie teachers who end up being dead weight.

    Professional development gives us “new things to teach in the classroom?” Tell you what: the next time some expert lecturer discovers a fundamental new area of language arts that my students need to learn, and it gets presented to me at a staff development meeting, I’ll let you know. I’m sure the next trendy educrat I hear pontificating at a meeting will share a major new breakthrough in composition or Shakespeare that will just rock my world. Material from my next professional development day can replace all that spelling nonsense I’ve been wasting my time on.

    Employers desire group work “skills?” What cherry-picked education establishment report did you get that from? Try researching actual industry journals and objective surveys: employers want kids who will show up on time and be able to do simple math. What do you teach that your students have mastered the content so amazingly, anyway, that they can work on a non-priority like how to “work well with others?” Is it kindergarten? Besides, check out MySpace some time: this generation’s whole existence revolves around working together. Let’s encourage a little independence, what do you say? And if there’s any time left over, maybe some simple math and reading.

  19. I’ve been teaching for 10 years, and I could have written your list! I agree with nearly all of it. Regarding PD I would add that most of it exists to pad the wallets of someone known by or related to the central office administrator who hires him or her. And regarding the “multiple intelligences,” right on! We’ve been forced to give our students multiple intelligences “assessments,” to determine how they “learn best.” Guess what? More than 90% report that they are “kinetic learners” — they like to “learn with their hands.” Oh, please. The only thing these assessments tell us is that the majority of our students would rather be playing ball somewhere than sitting in school doing the hard work of learning. And finally, I would tell new teachers to look at the dumbest teacher in their school — that’s right, the idiot, the one whose kids are swinging from the chandeliers each day while saying “Mrs. so-and-so is soooo cool” — and recognize that THAT teacher probably ascribes to every educational fad that comes her way. She likely fancies herself a real expert on “how kids learn.” Now look at her again, and stay away from her.

  20. You have a new fan. I feel I could have written most of these. As said above, beware of teachers who the kids say is “so cool.” They are probably real lenient. I teach AP US and Honors World History and rest assured the kids work. They write an essay a week, and do a whole bunch of reading primary sources, among other things. Students will work as hard as they are expected to work and they respect being made to work and they respect discipline. I give the students the expectations on the first day and pull no punches, slackers need not apply. As for making learning “fun” if they want fun they can go to an amusement park. Learning can be enjoyable because learning is an enjoyable pursuit. But fun? Negative.

    As for PD, when I was a cop we had training in the “next great way” to stop crime. Mostly it was taught by former chiefs of police who never really were able to put their theories into practice when they were the chief. In case you think students hate what you preach, I got an award from the senior class last year as their favorite male teacher. Not to be self-congratulatory, but to illustrate that students don’t resent a tough class.

  21. This is just pathetic… number 50 especially. Both of my parents are teachers, and let me tell you something right now; if you are a good teacher, and you actually care, YOU ARE GOING TO BRING WORK HOME WITH YOU. You strike me as the kind of teacher who doesn’t actually care about the kids and how well they are learning, but instead about yourself… get out of your school, you’re not helping.

  22. Debra, amen to your comments–it sounds like we’ve had similar experiences. You’re absolutely right about the “cool” teachers. Not only do students (including all of us older folks; ex-students) remember these teachers as the jokes they are–without having learned as much as they could have–but they even disrespect these teachers behind their backs today. Kids know how to work a flimsy teacher in class to get their way, but they’ll insult him or her to no end outside of class. Something for the “fun” teachers to think about.

    Law and Order Teacher, you and I, sir, might have been separated at birth. If our students need to learn anything in addition to course content, it isn’t self etseem or multiculturalism or any other fad, it’s the experience of accomplishing something difficult. “Fun” pales in comparison.

    Brooks, you are at least the fourth person to comment on this post with the accusation that I don’t care. Strange, how none of you critics have even tried to claim that my methods are ineffective; you just say that I’m mean. Why is it that so many people think a teacher must be either nice (which is good) or mean (which is bad)? Are you guys incapabale of wrapping your minds around a philosophy a little deeper than that? How about this as an option: a teacher who does the work that needs to be done that will be of most benefit to the students’ education, without regard for your cult of personality?

    Besides, it is possible for teachers to be strict and have high academic standards without hating their guts, you know. These lame insults against me speak volumes about your own shallow view of teaching. Listen, all that matters is instilling content knowledge and skills. If that’s your priority, everything else will fall into place. If anything else is more important to you, your students will miss out. Period. So who cares more now?

  23. PC Myth #1: “Don’t worry about the smart kids. They’ll take care of themselves.”

    Thank you SO much for this comment. And it is more appropriate to a new third grade teacher than a high school teacher.

    My kids are the smart kids who are expected to take care of themselves. It doesn’t work. My six year old complained, in class, at the top of her very loud voice, over why she had to continue to do baby work, when the class continued to practice counting to ten. My second grader learned to read novels under her desk and at sixth grade, still spends the majority of the school day doing this.

    They are not taking care of themselves. Of course, they are little children, who in their right mind thinks that they can design an eduation system at age six. They counldn’t event tie their own shoes.

  24. Jane, I feel so sorry for kids like this–we’re so obsessed with bringing up the lowest achieving kids that we’ve totally abandoned helping the most talented kids make the most of their potential. Thousand of incredibly bright kids in this country get underwhelming opportunites because we’re busy reviewing the basics with the bottom ten percent.

    Imagine if the great engineers, scientists, and doctors of the last century had grown up like kids do now, how much poorer our world would be! Instead of the technical paradise we inhabit, we’d be stuck in the industrial revolution, because the innovators would all have been trained in little more than elementary skills. These kids’s lives will suffer mediocrity because of this, and we’ll all never know how much society will miss out on because they weren’t allowed to achieve greater things.

  25. Hello. I appreciate a few of the suggestions you have given. However, I take issue with many more than I agree with. I am almost a straight A highschool student. Some of the worst teachers I have ever had follow your advice.
    For example, making students write down their homework and possibly when they plan to do it is condescending to many of the smarter high school students. Also, rejecting a kid’s assignment because of five or more errors in their paper is very discouraging. They may have tried their hardest, but in your book they still fail. Not letting a kid continue on to the next assignment because they have not turned in the previous assignment is controlling. If a kid decides not to do an assignment based on principle, they might fail the rest of the year based on one assignment. Also, taking half credit off for late or unfinished homework encourages students to skip a day of school so they can get full credit. You might be surprised at how many parents are willing to call in for a child when they are not actually sick.
    Additionally, I don’t advise being hard on kids who are asleep during your class. I slept through many of my classes because I have mild insomnia. There are many reasons for sleeping through a class and it is not your right to choose when someone else sleeps. For example, a kid could be sleeping through your class because it is not intellectually stimulating. They could also be sleeping through your class because it is their time and not yours considering high school students are forced to go to school in some states.
    From the sound of your suggestions, it sounds like like you don’t respect your kids very much and don’t treat them like the adults they are soon going to be. If you don’t respect your students, they will not respect you. I believe a good teacher is relaxed about rules, confident in his or her subject matter, and allows his or her students’ to to follow his or her own rules to an extent. If you let a student learn how they want to learn, they might actually learn.
    Sincerely,
    “One of the ‘smart’ kids”

  26. “Student,” you clearly are one of the “smart kids;” your writing is more competent than most students I’ve ever seen. However, you also illustrate why I stopped giving high school students end of the year class evaluations and comment cards several years ago–because even the very smartest kids could be conuted on to usually just write the same two things: “give less work” and “be more funner.”

    Considering only the things you remarked on here, your vision of a “good” class is one where students aren’t encouraged to be responsible for themselves, are allowed to turn in incorrect or incomplete work with little if any feedback, may continue with the rest of the class with no consequence for poor work, are tacitly allowed to skip school if they don’t feel like going, and may sleep instead of working if they want to (which, of course, is because the class isn’t fun enough or because their time is being stolen from them).

    Good grief. Would you like me to fluff your pillow and peel you some grapes while I’m at it, sir?

    Like most young people today, you’ve been trained to use the word “respect” a lot. Here’s a real lesson for you: students and teachers are not peers and are not the same, meaning they’re not equals. If a student is mature and wants an education, they do what’s expected of them because they know it’s for their good. Teachers don’t submit to the will of students, however. This world works because of authority and obedience. If you want to reject that fact, then don’t bother getting a job, because your boss doesn’t need to “respect” you, either, especially since for your generation this word now means “letting us do whatever we want.” Didn’t you ever see The Karate Kid?

    You claim several things that you “believe” about a good teacher, but so what? What does anybody’s opinion have to do with it, much less personal preferences? Nobody goes to a doctor or a mechanic or a carpenter and says, “It’s OK to have your opinion, but I think you should really start doing your procedures in a way that is pleasant to me.” All that matters is what effectively instills knowledge and abilities, and we know what those things are based on experience, research, and common sense, none of which are reflected in your subjective, self-serving comments.

    Here, you should really watch this.

  27. terrible. just terrible.

    your list defies everything that research has taught us in regards to learning and education. it is very clear to see that you are a burnt out teacher who no longer has passion for the job. you’re not worried about what is best for the students, but rather what is easiest for yourself and what covers your own bum legally.

    PATHETIC!

    this is exactly why i’m going into education; to counter-act the dreadful sour-apple teachers that are poisoning our school systems (and the lazy teachers who hang on to them and agree with whine-y lists).

  28. *sigh* Rather than reiterate them, why don’t you just read my responses to the other critics above, Penny Lane?

    Wait…”Penny Lane?” As in the Beatles’ song? You’ve taken your screen name from a song by an experimental set of self-described drug-using communist hippies? Ah, I see. Your comments now make perfect sense.

  29. Huston,

    I was a starry-eyed hippie teacher and I understand your critics’ comments. Understand…but no longer agree. Reading your “50 things” list years ago wouldn’t have changed me then. Now your list would absolutely be my template for returning to the classroom.

    Why?

    It’s not enough for students to love learning, they must also be able to complete things with competence and responsibility.

    Happy adults know how to knuckle down, get the job done with little supervision, and still have time left for hobbies, fun, family, or at least a full night’s sleep. Children need more mentors like this, not “door mat” teachers (or parents) who lose themselves in the giving.

  30. “It’s not enough for students to love learning, they must also be able to complete things with competence and responsibility.”

    Kim, this is now one of my all-time favorite quotes. I’ll get a lot of mileage out of it! Thank you for your smart explanation of the philosophy behind my list.

  31. I am a teacher of a brilliant school here in New Zealand. I love my job and every day is something special. I work with excited people and positive parents with kids who look forward to coming to school every day.
    I found you blog deeply disturbing and very very sad. We use many of the theories you find unhelpful such as multiple intelligences. We work with all our students in co operative and interactive environments.
    I teach in the real world and it doesn’t sound anything like yours, I’m sorry you’re missing the best bits.
    Feel free to visit us in New Zealand, Discovery 1 School, Christchurch.

  32. Melva, congratulations on being in a successful situation. “Positive parents with kids who look forward to coming to school every day” will thrive no matter what. Meanwhile, a recent study ranking 100 major US cities on their suitability for raising a family deemed Las Vegas one of the worst, placing us at 92.

  33. Hello Huston,

    If your students are learning, and producing the results you want, that is a wonderful thing. Although, if your teaching style in any way reflects the attitude you present in your comment feed-back, I imagine the environment you create is oppressive.

    I understand you won’t perceive this comment as it is intended, but try contemplating your motivation, in a general sense.

  34. Jillian, if I come across as sarcastic or even hostile in other responses, it’s because I’m sick of people assuming that any teacher who has high standards and cares about guiding students towards them rather than filling the time with fluffy nonsense must be some kind of cold-blooded kid-hating monster.

    Hopefully you don’t fall into that trap, but seriously…”oppressive?” Why is it that people these days imagine that a classroom with strict academic standards must be a cheerless gulag?

    Something else had me thinking about my motivation just yesterday. I teach not because it’s fun or because I relish working with young people–although those things are often true–but because I care about their education; I care about their success and the future of our nation. Those motives lead me to do my job in their long-term best interests, not just to make them feel good and like me now. But you know what’s ironic, Jillian? Most kids respect that, and end up liking me more than the warm fuzzy teachers, anyway. Kids might be ignorant, but they’re not dumb. They know when silly, incompetent people are pandering to them when they see it.

  35. I think this is a good list for, say, an inner city or under-performing school, but I would hesitate to call this a universal list. Many of the items would backfire on the east coast or in schools in smaller towns (I’ve taught in both), so it might be worth noting that these might not be as successful with more motivated students.

  36. Well sir, it would seem you have been used as target practice by the forces of touchy-feely. I find it really interesting that a lot of these comments are from those not in the teaching field. That might account for the state of American schools today. I get it, less hard work will inexplicably result in more achievement. In that case, I’ll let up on the out of class work that I do preparing assignments that stimulate student learning and just lay back and allow them to learn on their own. I happen to feel that I earn my living teaching, not facilitating learning. I had a great moment today in class when one of my 9th graders came to me after completing her in-class work and said, “At first I had a tough time with how much work I had to do in your class. Now I get it and I’m going to do better next quarter.” She has a “C.” She will do better because she is capable of doing better. I will demand it, or I will turn in my swastika adorned clothing. I hope your year is going well, comrade.

  37. L&O T, it’s always good to be reminded that nuts and bolts teachers with high standards aren’t alone out there. Keep fighting the good fight!

  38. Huston,
    I’m disturbed not by your list, but by the negative comments left by people who are living in a dream world. I’m a junior in college and in a year will be a speech, theater, and English teacher. I’m a bit older than many of my classmates, but I’m not so terribly far from my high school days myself. I remember myself as a student and I must have been unendingly frustrating. I was one of the ‘smart kids’, yet I pulled in C’s and D’s because I just didn’t care or understand the benefit of doing the work if I already knew the material. After flunking out of my first year of college (it took me five years and two kids of my own to gain the motivation to return), I realized that my education could have been spared if I hadn’t been at the hands of teachers more concerned with being my friend than making sure I turned in that assignment. Is it all their fault? Certainly not. I was a snot-nosed brat who thought she had all the answers and that the teachers were the real idiots.
    I’m bookmarking your list and I fully intend on implementing many of your points in my own classroom. Before the world gasps at the idea of a future theater teacher “restricting” her class with your “unreasonable” rules, I want them to understand this: I WAS that kid. I was the kid who would have benefited from this. I went into college completely unprepared for what the system expects from a student at that point and I failed miserably because of it. If I have to mildly irritate a couple of kids to make sure even one doesn’t make the same mistakes I did, then that is what’s going to happen.
    Thank you for posting this.

  39. KD, thank you so, so much for this. I can’t tell you how good it made me feel. I understand your perspective, because I was that kid, too. You’ll do great as a teacher! Thanks again.

  40. KD—You left out: Make friends with the Head Custodian and the Head Secretary—–they really are in charge AND Plan on being sick and absent from work more than you have ever experienced, for at least your first three years of teaching. Things I’ve learned after 31 years in schools (Custodian and now Head Custodian).

  41. @ your comment with the “smart one”

    So arguing with students is acceptable? Do you really not see the issue there?

    And, if using a line from the Beatles discredits your opinions, so too does using a Simpsons character as your picture.

  42. Student, arguing? You mean disagreeing? Or correcting erroneous positions? Or exposing flawed thinking? Absolutely, that’s acceptable. It’s called teaching.

    I never said that using the name of a Beatles song discredits an opinion. It sure doesn’t help bolster it, but it doesn’t discredit it, either. I would say that having a weakly explained and defended opinion discredits an opinion, though.

    My picture is not a Simpsons character.

    Other than those mistakes, everything you said is right.

  43. Please, for the sake of students everywhere, change professions.

    How can you enjoy teaching with that attitude? Where’s the passion? You’d be a great teacher if all you plan to do is turn out classroom after classroom full of lifeless drones who hate life as much as you do. Look into some research. Do you really think it is purely coincidence that so many people on here disagree with you? Perhaps I’m just an ignorant adolescent, but if I notice that a lot of people are strongly disagreeing with my position, I take the hint and re-evaluate my positions. If you have already done this (I have my doubts) than good for you for standing strong. If not, please do so now.

    Maybe you have some fine reasons for being bitter, but don’t drag anyone else down with you, ESPECIALLY your students. If you didn’t cut it as an educational theorist or psychologist (I wonder why) don’t take it out on your “back-up-plan” students. They deserve much better than you can offer.

  44. Hello, Huston. I just wanted to say you sound exactly like one of my favorite high school teachers. He has been teaching the same class for over 20 years and given the exact same assignments. That might sound bad to some people, but his class was the most effective, relevant and useful one I ever had, even though he taught Contemporary World Problems and I’m a physics major now. He was strict and assigned hard assignments, but we all knew it was because he truly cared us. He didn’t change his ways because they work, unlike the methods of many of the other teachers I had in high school whose classes bored me to death because I could either finish an assignment in five minutes and goof off for the rest of it or we’d have group work and I’d end up doing all of it. The only teachers who prepared me for college were the ones who taught the way you do. My first year of college was extremely difficult because I was not adequately prepared, especially in writing. Please continue doing what you’re doing – it works and I’m sure many students will thank you in the future!

  45. Student, after two previous criticisms of me, this last one–and it will be the last one–is appallingly ignorant. You have responded to none of my explanations, instead devolving to ever more tawdry insults to bolster your self-justifying tunnel vision.

    “So many people on here disagree with” me? You mean a couple of dozen zombie malcontents? Yes, they are all wrong.

    All of your assumptions as printed here are wrong. Flat out wrong. You illustrate a useful lesson here, however: oftentimes we hear that “if the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” You prove that sometimes, the student just refuses to learn. Any future comments from you with your juvenile tenor will be deleted.

    College Student, you are the exact opposite of the last comment left here, not just in your conclusion, but in the maturity of writing and thought clearly behind it. Thank you for your compliment–it’s truly people like you who make my work worth it.

    I told someone just this last week that good students tend to like me and that bad students tend to not like me. That’s how I know I’m doing a good job. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting exhibits A and B.

  46. As someone who wants to be a teacher, I find this list invaluable and I’ll keep checking it as I go further in my career, but as an artist, I couldn’t disagree with you MORE about the Thomas Kinkade greeting cards.
    Are you mad? Thomas Kinkade is an insult to all art. At least get some Van Gogh or something! I had a first grade teacher who was way into Van Gogh, and had us kids replicate the sunflowers and Starry Night.
    Don’t go Kinkade. He doesn’t paint his own things, it’s horribly contrived, and there are sooooo many wonderful artists in the world.

  47. Strangely enough I just bought some items at a Catholic Bookstore and on the bag was Thomas Kinkade painting, “The Light Shines in the Darkness.” I thought it was a fine painting, but then again I have no taste in art. I love Norman Rockwell. As for the student “harasser” what’s the deal? I feel like I’m reading somebody who swallowed all that research jazz and is now regurgitating it here. I had my fill of that junk while I was getting my masters. Touch the base and move on, nothing to see here. There are people who disagree? Well it must be me who is wrong, not them. You’re right, they’re wrong. Keep up the fight against political correctness as I do. My students and I had a lucid, scholarly discussion about Federalist #10 and #51 in class Friday. They were able to discuss this deep material because they are intelligent and they were pushed to achieve. They will get to a high level if they are pushed. I have a better feeling about the future listening to them sometimes. BTW, I love teaching. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. It beats getting shot at. Merry Christmas.

  48. Thanks, L&O T. It’s always refreshing to hear from likeminded citizens. As far as painting goes, look up Albert Bierstadt and Winslow Homer–I think you’ll like their work. I also love the Federalist Papers and use them in my American Literature classes.

  49. “They’ve been trained by the media and their hormones to automatically hate everything at school.”

    Actually we’ve been trained as teachers to think that the oppressive nature of schooling is good for them. Kids instincts are quite astute, and hormones dont ‘train’. Kids are wrong? Maybe you’re wrong.

    For more on this notion: http://wp.me/ptcfd-1L

  50. I’ve taught for nineteen years and looked at this article as I would look at a buffet. I’m not going to like everything I see and everything I see wasn’t put there for me. Take whatever suits your preferences and leave the rest behind for others.

  51. Tristan, you don’t actually prove my quote wrong; in fact, you don’t even address it. You just changed the subject. As for your assertions, they are really just trendy, subjective assumptions based on easy, juvenile values. You don’t make a case for them beyond spewing invective at a system that’s easier to pick away at than it would be to honestly address the many little tears in the social fabric of our society, isn’t it?

    Your view is no more profound than the self-serving tantrums of an adolescent who doesn’t want to do anything, who wants to be taken care of, who reflexively assumes that everything hard is bad and someone else’s fault. The very fact that your “argument” mirrors such a shallow philosophy should raise a red flag as strike one against it. News flash: children do NOT tend to know what’s best for them. Or perhaps you think adults should be the students in schools run by children? (That would make for an awkward transition as we progress from teachers into students–we must get an awaful lot dumber as grow up, huh?)

    Tristan, in your view of school, what would be the point of any schooling, teachers, curriculum, or education at all? If instinct and self-directed exploration is good enough, then–surprise!–we’re all born good enough. And then we can just forget all this dificult bother about work and change. Just like the little babies of the world want.

    P.G., you have exactly the right mindset. My advice is not a scientific proscription. I know that the underlying values are sound, but as for my many modes of implementing them, feel free to pick and choose at your leisure. To paraphrase Thoreau, my work is like a suit–try it on and see how it fits. If it doesn’t fit you, then no hard feelings.

  52. Your point is well taken. I have no doubt your methods are quite effective for the environment you work in. It is the environment itself that is fundamentally flawed. How, indeed, are we to deal with children who we inherit from a public school system that is outdated? It is sad that there are new teachers out there who have strong ideals and notions of liberal education who will be thrown into a classroom that has more in common with a correctional facility than a learning environment.

    No doubt even I will resort to using your methods on occasion, but I take comfort in not having to work in the same conditions as you. Hats off to you for working on the front lines, BTW. It takes a certain kind of teacher to take on such a job. Your advice clearly comes from your own experience. Judging by your snide retorts, the mutterings of idealistic educational philosophy advocates must sound like a lot of noise to you after a day of damage control.

    I dont begrudge your insight into dealing with this chronic problem. But is there anything that can still be done to spare teachers and students alike? With you years of experience as a teacher do you see any way out of this problem? Or is it enough work just dealing with it?

    To answer you question, as a teacher not awash in the failed public school system, I see school as system of moral doctrine that teaches behaviour and work ethic over content and creativity. Unfortunately it caters to the outdated values and knowledge of its current generation of teachers and new knowledge and techniques are quickly crushed under its paleolithic weight. Current teachers are busy cracking a non-existent whip and coming up with witty quips instead of learning. Who will break first? The increasingly growing classes full of increasingly uncooperative students, or the ageing teachers scrambling with fewer means and smaller budgets?

    Your page has given way to potentially interesting discussions from your readers. Why not indulge them rather than engage them? Clearly not everyone is immersed in the same unreasonable conditions as you. This is a discussion room, not a classroom. Perhaps you have grown too accustomed to telling people to shut up.

  53. Tristan, I want you to know that my first instinct after reading your reply was to ironically retort, “Shut up.” Get it? But not only would that risk creating anger instead of a laugh, I realize that I may not have been as charitable here as you have been–you say my writing is “snide,” and no doubt you truly feel that way. If so, I’m sorry. I’m impressed by your maturity, and will try to communicate at that higher level.

    That being said, you have some things right. Yes, a lot of classes–in a lot of different people’s classrooms–end up devolving into petty power struggles. Yes, it’s happened to me, and no, I’m not proud of it. In fact, those classes have been the ones that I tear myself up inside about the most over the years. The same is true for most any teacher who’s been in a sour situation. The kind of rote, mechanical, authoritative environment you’re picturing does exist, and is usually a sad last resort.

    However, I think I see now where a lot of criticism here is coming from. You and some others are looking at my lists and imposing on them an image of what kind of school you think they must exist in. I’m writing for any average, general American classroom. You seem to be picturing Dangerous Minds or 187 or something. Here’s an idea that a lot of young teachers need to consider–techniques like those I endorse here do not crush spirits, create zombies, or any other similar dystopian stereotype created by Hollywood, they will liberate spirits and minds in the long run far better than the watered-down pandering that passes for trendy education these days. Seriously. The most “creative” minds in history were molded by what you might consider the most draconian methods. Conversely, “creative” education has been the norm in our classrooms for two generations now. How’s that working out for us?

    Tell you what. I wish you the best in your career. I hope you find both happiness and success in your work. It’s great work and worthwhile and I love it. Once you’ve been in the trenches for two or three years, compare your results to those who you’d be inclined to write off today, and then drop me a line. I’d like to know how it’s gone. Good luck!

  54. Just found this on a lazy Saturday when I should be pulling weeds in the yard instead of surfing the web. I have been a teacher for almost 30 years and everything you have put down works for me too. I can’t believe there are so many people who disagree with your 50 tips. I especially agree on the lesson plan. Two days before works so well for me.

  55. Sean, thank you for the support. There really is a divide in philosophies out there for teachers, and too few speak up for common sense. Thanks for your decades of effective work.

  56. Probably some of the dumbest things I have ever heard. Pretty well the only one I agree with is that students don’t work well in groups. I am a student. You do not need to lock the door when you leave. We are not crazy and aren’t going to run out the second you leave, we barely notice you’re gone. Inspirational posters are far from being worthless. The last five minutes of everyday should be devoted to absolutely nothing. Students will listen to what you have to say if they like you. If your students don’t like you it won’t matter how good of a teacher you are or how much training you got, they won’t listen to a word you say. Also just a side note if you let your students adress you by just your last name without a Mr. or Mrs. in front of it they will respect you. Adults and teenagers have very different needs to respect someone. However if you threaten a student with having to do an assignment or getting a seating plan follow through. If they see that you will cave and not do it, they will eat you alive.

  57. Brooklynn, you realize, I hope, that your response actually proves my points. I wish you all the best and thank you for taking the time to read and reply, but I think I owe it to everybody to share with them that the email address you registered this comment with included the phrase “dumbgirl.”

    Please read my anecdote about The Karate Kid under my recent post about sentence diagramming. It will do you a world of good.

  58. I used dumbgirl because it is an email address I used to have a long time ago and no longer use. I hate getting emails on crap like this. You should be listening to me. You think that your education will make you a good teacher and it won’t if you cant connect with your students you will be completely worthless, regardless of how much you think you know.

  59. Brooklyn, OK, OK! Calm down. Look, it really is a genuine treat to have any young people comment here, and I don’t mean to insult or discourage you. Now, you do make two mistakes here: you assume that I think my education makes me a good teacher, when I actually think that the college training of teachers in this ountry is terrible, and you state that teachers must “connect with your students,” which means to relate material to them and/or have positive personal interactions. Historically and technically, neither is needed for education to be effective. Actually, both are recent ideas, and have coincided with the mental slump our society is in. Don’t expect instant understanding and fun, and education will probably quickly become even more rewarding for anyone. Thanks again for reading.

  60. Excuse my english, but I’m from Sweden. Here in Sweden we have some documents from The National Agency for Education which says that “Everyone who works within the school shall promote the respect for every student’s value” It basically means that we as teacher’s shall see every student and work with what we got. We have to be there for all our students even if they don’t want it. So here are my questions, do you have any similar documents in USA? Is the school system compulsory for everyone in USA? Why are you working as a teacher? Do you believe in all your students? If not, why? Does your list of “things you need to know” have any theoretical research behind it?

    I am sincerly curious and interested no spite intended. I do hope you answer me. Best regards Michaela

  61. I just finished my first year of teaching this Wednesday. I went into teaching believing all of these things, and now that my first year is over I STILL believe them. I received constant criticism this year for being “too hard” on my students. I was vilified for not giving them enough group work. Because I had to make my administration happy, I gave in and did three group projects this year. No matter how structured I made the assignments, the students completed little to no work. Group projects, even paired projects, were consistently disappointing. After my final evaluation of the year in January, I began patterning my teaching style after teachers who I found truly inspiring. I lectured, they took notes, then we discussed and reviewed the material we learned that day (whether in an oral or written format).
    A few weeks ago, I had a sub. She came to me the next day to say that she was amazed by my students’ behavior. She had subbed for the same group of kids in the class next door (we rotate in groups), and she said that they were AWFUL in that class but incredibly well behaved in mine. The teacher next door is notorious for showing movies, assigning group projects, and playing lots of “fun games.” The sub asked the students why they behaved so differently in my class. A student (one of my loudest complainers) looked at the sub and simply said “We learn in here.”

  62. Michaela, sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. Your English is very good. To answer your questions:

    * Yes, American schools have plenty of rules and regulations that are intended to make us “respect” students, but a point of contention is this: what constitutes real respect? Is praising everything young people say and do really helping them? Or, perhaps, is the most respectful thing we can do for them to correct errors in sloppy thinking and initiate them into a grand tradition of serious intellectual discourse? Pandering isn’t respect, it’s cowering.

    * Yes, going to school is mandatory in the U.S. Different states have different rules for when students may voluntarily leave before graduation, but for the most part, students must attend until well into their teens.

    * I’m teacher because I love my country and I think this is one of the most important ways to secure its continued success–to shape the minds of the next generation into healthy, strong muscles. Also, I love English.

    * Do I “believe” in my students meaning, do I think they all have potential? On one hand, I think most students have far more potential than anyone gives them credit for, or tries to develop. However, there are students who have reached the high school level who have so few skills, so little background or outside support, and so many emotional and social problems that any meaningful education is almost hopeless, and I would prefer to see our limited resources directed towards more the majority of students whose futures are more viable.

    * Actually, my teaching philosophy has more research behind it than the trendy kind that dominates education schools today. Read Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? and Classroom Instruction That Works, by Robert Marzano.

    Best of luck to you in all your work.

    You might also consider the comment after yours. Thank you, First Year Teacher, for your story and your service. Keep up the good work and enjoy your summer!

  63. I think you’re an idiot. You have no idea what 21st century teaching should be about and I truly hope my kids NEVER encounter teachers like you.

  64. Ah, as the new school year gets closer, more people will find this post and more trolls will bash it. Can’t wait.

  65. Thanks so much for you list. I will be starting my first year of teaching in a few days, and I am sooo nervous. Your list is a good example of how I was taught in school. I come from a small town in Louisiana, and our teachers did not play. You respected your teacher. You WERE NOT equals. You did your work correctly and on time or there were consequences, and the parents for the most part had the teacher’s back. All the teachers that I had through the years, I respected and still do. These are all the things that I want to exemplify in my teaching career, but I’m worried that my nervousness will cause me to be more lenient.
    High school kids should not be coddled. The world doesn’t coddle them, and much of the time these kids learn more life lessons from their teachers than from their parents. They should be prepared for whatever life throws at them after school. What if it winds up being the military?

  66. I’m an aspiring history/social sciences teacher in my second year of college. I haven’t even started learning “how to teach” yet, just finishing up my general studies. Your post was so very helpful to me. I found in your list so many of the ways I see myself conducting myself as an educator. I told my gf earlier today that I was going to be a “hard” teacher. When she asked why, I told her it was because the teachers that helped me the most weren’t the ones who were interested in being the most popular, rather, they were the one’s interested in making sure that students entered the real world prepared. Anyway, great post. Please don’t grade my grammarical errors and spelling too harshly, not my strong suit. Keep up the good work.

  67. Huston, after reading some of your reader’s comments, I feel it necessary to weigh in. I had teachers in high school who were known as the “cool teachers,” they were best friends with all the popular kids and football players, they had lax rules and standards, and they even had “free days.” I never learned anything from them. I used that kind of system to perpetuate the the lazy, funloving time I so desired back then. They gave me no tools to use in the real world. I believe a teacher should set an example of how an adult should conduct his or her self. They should be a lens into how one should conduct one’s self as an adult, as so many kids today do not have this kind of example at home. The American work place has no room for ppl conditioned to expect everything to come easily. It will be okay if some students think me oppresive or mean because mabey, just mabey, they will respect me for it later. I have book marked these tips, and I will be returning to them in the future for advice. Thank you.

  68. Wow! I was hoping that this list was actually HELPFUL for teachers. OMG some of the items on your list are career suicide, I am glad I never read this list, or I would have never would’ve kept my job. Thanks, but no thanks.

  69. Thank you! I picked up a few new tips, but mostly you confirmed that I was on the right track. I teach at a northern Virginia alternative school , 7th-10th, complete with uniform, student contract signed hourly, and no electives, unfortunately. It has been very difficult teaching here, not so much because of the students but because some teachers refuse to enforce the expectations we all agreed on. The current students complain bitterly about those of us following the principal’s guidelines. The “fun” teachers allow students to use foul language, wander the halls, and speak disrespectfully about female teachers and students. Whenever I see my students later, they thank me and are no longer “upset” about having classroom expectations. I try to keep that in mind when a parent tells me that they just want their son to be happy.

  70. Trish, sounds like you’ve learned the important things and are on the right track. Good for you, and keep up the good work!

  71. Love this list! Some of the things made me literally laugh out loud. They are all so true. I teach elementary, so my experiences are totally different – yet many things seem so similar. My goal is to someday teach teachers at the college level. This may very well end up being food for thought for them… :)

  72. I am a 55-year-old guy who went back to school to be a High School social studies teacher. After many years in the corporate work, I decided that I wanted to finish what I started so many years before.

    I just finished my internship a week ago. I had a ball, the kids enjoyed having the “old guy” teach the cold war and tell them true stories of what it was like growing up in those turbulent times.

    I read your list after my student teaching was over (wish I had read it first) and I have to say, I agree with many of your comments. There are some thoughts that I do not agree with, but hey I don’t think I could make a 50-point list that everyone didn’t completely agree with.

    Well, done!

  73. I loved your list. I will be starting my official first year of teaching in August, but I worked as a full time para and permanent sub during my college years. During my time in the schools, I have realized that a lot of the issues that students experience could have been avoided had teachers had higher education standards and expectations for them. This list might lean towards the negative on some points, but that is how it is in the real world classroom.

    I was searching for tips for new teachers and I was a little disheartened by all the simplistic, superficial tips I came across. Thank you for being honest about what to expect. Your list has been bookmarked and some tips I had to write down because I loved them so much!

  74. I just read this and WOW. Pretty sure that you just read my mind on most of it, especially the writing and group projects. I encountered both in my college classes and actually asked one member how she even got into college. She could not write a complete sentence, let alone a comprehensive paragraph…and 30% of my overall grade depended on her work. I thought it was isolated, but it isn’t. I am so glad that I was (am) strict with my daughter about proper grammar and being able to write well.

    Thank you for the one about remaining professional! As a future teacher and a parent..that is so very important. The teachers that I had issues with were the ones that tried being her “buddy.” She’s was a smart kid and walked all over them.

    I also agree that the latest fads in teaching are coddling kids and not challenging them. All in all, I am so glad that I read this!!!

  75. Hi Huston,

    Honestly, the first thing I have to mention is how much I’m cringing at the “teachers” comments because they are riddled with spelling errors. Nothing irks me more than a teacher who doesn’t know how to spell “maybe” and a teacher who says, “Li-berry.”

    Anyway, I just finished my first year of teaching. I’m older than most 1st year teachers (in my early 30s – it’s my 2nd calling), so I feel like I have LIFE behind me to support my thoughts, opinions, and actions. I think something that should be on this list is that you sorta need to have TWO teaching lives going on simultaneously – the one you project to the administration to show you are doing what they want you to do, and then the things you are REALLY doing. Either keep it a secret or allow both to be known, but there really IS a distinction. I learned this quickly. Someone who steps foot in your classroom ONCE in an entire year knows VERY LITTLE about teaching and shouldn’t be revered in the least.

    SATs and college entrance exams don’t question if a student “had fun” during their schooling or whether they’re good “team players.” My very first day, I came home crying for hours. I almost quit. Then I straightened up and called my aunt who has been a teacher for 30 years. Many may call her “cynical”, but she hasn’t been a teacher for 30 years with umpteen promotions and degrees for nothing, especially not for being “nice.” I listened to her and I got my act together. I realized I was being too sweet and nice and they TOTALLY took advantage of me, even at 10 years old!! I walked in there the very next day and laid down the law. I didn’t merge from my “rules” and “expectations” of my students ALL YEAR. And if they wanted to “test me” then they go the repercussions I had already laid out and they were fully aware of. I had rules, but I actually FOLLOWED and ENFORCED them. They weren’t just there to appease the admin. Guess whose class was the most respectful to their peers, teachers, and toward education?

    I didn’t sugarcoat ANYTHING for these kids, because the real world isn’t taffy and ice cream. I talked to them about what their choices say about them as people. I talked to them about how what other people think about their choices and behavior DOES matter because no matter how much people say it doesn’t matter, in the REAL world, you ARE judged on your choices and your decisions. AND who you are as a person is gauged by how hard you work, how kind you are to others, and your genuine respect for YOURSELF, your PEERS, and the world around you. I also drove home the point to them that this world DOESN’T revolve around them, no matter how much they want to think it does.

    I was considered pretty strict, and they will admit that, but they also said they never learned so much, and that no one before ever held them accountable for their actions and choices.

    I DID do projects, but mine were INDEPENDENT and NOT group projects – as that was always an abysmal failure when I was a kid because I was the one who always ended up doing all the work and the others reaped the benefits. These kids are SOCIAL ENOUGH — so ENOUGH with all of the social theory crap that we are supposed to teach them. If they don’t know by the time they leave kindergarten that everyone isn’t the same, everyone isn’t equal, there are people who need things you don’t, life isn’t fair, or they don’t know how to participate with others… chances are they will NEVER know it. Those are skills they should already be pretty set with by age 6. There’s no need to still be teaching how to “accept others” at 13.

    School is NOT a place for socializing, but it has turned into this huge social MESS. These kids don’t need MORE socializing – they need structure, discipline, guidance, and accountability… something most of them aren’t receiving at home. I can’t even tell you how many times these kids ask to go to the nurse, the dean, the guidance counselor, the psychologist ALL DAY LONG because we’ve allowed that to become the norm. I think I asked to go see the guidance counselor once in all of elementary school. These kids are way too focused on their image and “who they are as individuals” and are running to these people to “talk” about their “feelings” and about who was not friends with them that day or that so-and-so was mean to them on the bus. We created that with these social fads and the experimentation in education of the past 30 years. The last TRULY exceptional generation (education wise) was in the era of Kennedy (in my opinion, of course). No, I’m not saying to start beating kids with rulers again, but that level of structure and discipline, combined with a healthy mix of respect and FEAR for/of adults is what got us the worlds leading scientists, inventors, etc. Since then, it’s really just gone to pot.

    My curriculum director told us, “don’t worry about Spelling – it’s irrelevant,” or some poo-hockey like that. Guess who ignored that advice? Me. I had individualized spelling lists that the kids had to work on. Sure, it took me a little bit of time, but not much. In the end, guess whose kids SOARED on their reading and writing? MINE because spelling ability AFFECTS reading and writing ability! I was told, “don’t give them too much homework, it’s too much on them.” Guess who gave homework anyway? And guess whose kids APPRECIATED it? I was told they shouldn’t be expected to produce research reports of more than 1 page… guess whose kids turned in 3-5 TYPED pages for their research reports? I didn’t coddle my kids. I was hard on them, I pushed them, I enforced tough rules and regulations… and they LOVED ME in spite of (or because of) that!

    The best advice I have after surviving my first year is: RAISE THE BAR! The kids WILL rise to the challenge!! They CRAVE a challenge – whether that’s academics, structure, discipline, accountability, etc.

  76. I am a first year student teacher and I am very afraid to go there and do my school expereance and it is compulsory can you please give me some advice.
    I wil be very if you can give some because its less than a week before I start.

  77. Hello, Huston!
    I liked your column very much, especially the items covering classroom management, time management, curriculum mapping, and lesson planning. Might I mention another suggestion for the first year teacher? An additional person who can be of great help might be the teacher next door. Several times I have had a student brought to me who, just for that period, could not function in an appropriate manner in another teacher’s class. Veteran teachers can be of great assistance to the first year teacher. I should know. Without them, I would never have made it to twenty-three years. . .and counting!

  78. Um, you’re ridiculous? Have you had any training? Read the prologue of the book The Flat World and Education. There’s a reason all of these new theories have come about and that the whole world of education is moving away from the traditional… because we are trying to create successful HUMAN BEINGS and critical thinkers – not just A students. I hope that you take this “advice” down before any new teachers see it.

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