This seems simple enough, but easy to forget. There are real differences in the child’s brain from early years through the teen years. Kids are sometimes irrational, undependable, secretive, distrustful, lazy, and inappropriate. Sometimes when we see this behavior we lose our cool and think they are doing it “on purpose.”
This is going to seem politically incorrect, but it’s the best way I can put it—I see my students as mentally disabled with moments of clarity. On some cognitive level this is true because they are still developing. Would I get angry if a child with Down Syndrome did something wrong? No.
I would take their disability into consideration and moderate my tone and approach.
If we see that kids are simply not fully developed people—works in progress—it can take the sting out of poor behavior. Instead of getting angry, think of their disability and react without anger or spite.
2. Consistency: No favoritism.
You will like some students more than others. We do not like to say this, but it is obvious. Also, a child you have difficulty with may be the “teacher’s pet” in another room. The point is not to base your classroom management on how you feel about your students but on your classroom rules. If the “good kid” steps out of line, then he or she should receive the same consequences as that kid you have difficulty with so that all can see and understand you are fair and consistent.
3. Professionalism: Keep your personal life private.
Though it is fine to be friendly to students, it is important that you not cross the line to become a friend. You are the instructor and need to remain the authority figure. There is no need to “dominate” the class, but sharing too much information, certainly personal information, can be problematic, especially in this age of the internet.
In many schools, teachers are forbidden to have a Facebook or Twitter page. Other schools encourage it but have strict guideline about the usage. My personal feeling is that you should not connect with students through any means outside of school, via the internet or in person. There are simply too many lawsuits that point to the errors of such behavior. Even innocent communication can be taken out of context and be used against you. EVERYTHING you e-mail or post on the internet is permanently recorded. Though you hit delete, the information is still obtainable by authorities.
Students, by their very nature are inconsistent. You can be their best friend one day and the next, they hate you and want to do everything they can to punish you. Imagine a “good student” who rightfully earns a detention, their feelings can change on a dime and you are the one leaving yourself vulnerable.
This is not meant to alarm you, but social interactions of any kind put you in a very bad position and open to legal issues far deeper than you would like to explore. You need to care. You need to connect. You need to share, but do so as a professional.
4. Organization: Paperwork and the legal things you must do.
The paperwork outside the classroom can be overwhelming. Then you add in all the work that pertains to your subject and there is a mountain that needs to be climbed on a daily basis. The documentation escalates and seems to have no end, but if you are organized and do it as it come up, you can stay above the rising waters. Getting behind too can put you in violation of the law.
Some students have special accommodations you are legally bound to have available and follow at all times. Never mind that you teach 150 students a day; you have to make concrete accommodations for these students and it is NOT always easy. There could be a spot inspection by state authorities and if that paperwork is not available, you can lose your teaching certificate. It is that serious. It is also difficult to meet all expectations. For example, you may have 5 students who need special seating for fewer distractions. Every classroom only four corners; what are you to do?
5. Communication Dexterity: Kids, parents, colleagues, administrators…
As a teacher you are confronted by diverse populations all with different expectations of your role as a teacher. You must be able to speak clearly to each in the most professional way possible because your interactions can have a dramatic effect on your job and even your working conditions.
- Communicate poorly to students, they don’t succeed, and you are labeled a bad teacher.
- Communicate poorly to parents and you will get complaints to your supervisor.
- Communicate poorly to your colleagues and you are isolated
- Communicate poorly to administrators and it can affect your working conditions or employment.
6. Ability to Ask for Help.
Though you should be capable of teaching alone and seek help on your own, collaboration and communication with other teachers can be a huge benefit. If you wait too long to ask for help, you can find yourself too far behind to recover. By seeking out colleagues, you can learn from their successes, empathize about the problems you share, solve problems together, and seek the help of veteran teachers and administrators. NEVER feel that asking for help makes you appear to be a poor teacher. Some of the best teachers I know collaborate often. Ask a colleague to observe your class informally for suggestions; a new point of view can be invaluable!
Islands can be pretty, but they can also be very lonely places.
7. Think on your feet: Change lessons on the spur of the moment.
Though it is important to follow curriculum and be consistent, you are not a robot, and sometimes things come up that are both pertinent and relevant. You may find a way to refocus a lesson that will grab students’ attention. When you do this they see that their input matters.
Some tangents can be negative and some positive. Take a moment and think it through. These are golden opportunities, though admittedly some will just be distractions. You need to remain alert to these possibilities and “roll with it” and use that flexibility to excite your students.
Another aspect of this is that “S**T happens.” The internet can be down, power outages happen, kids don’t bring in supplies you assigned for homework (like bring in a magazine, etc.) So you must be able to find an alternate path to switch gears and move on. Thinking on your feet is just part of the job. Have a fun lesson stashed away for such an occasion.
8. Emotional Detachment: Don’t take everything personally; think it through.
Similar in thought to number one, you need to have a clinical detachment to the emotional drama of school and see it for what it is. This does not mean you need to be cold and detached, but it does mean you need to see the behavior and situation for what it is. Students are under-developed adults. If you attribute adult willfulness to their behavior you will only become frustrated. Students often have a narrow range of reactions to situations. They do not think of the larger implication to their behavior and they lack experiences to teach them these things in a meaningful way.
As a teacher, you are often the one to help them understand these things. You need to show them the options and let them choose. And you need to enforce the outcomes. You are the police, judge, jury, lawyer, and policy maker. You need to expect that issues will arise daily. Most will be small, but as these experiences accumulate, the student forms the foundation for their own adult behavior. Arbitrary enforcement only reinforces the idea that consequences are arbitrary as well.
One indication that you have an issue here is by calculating how often you feel the need to raise your voice. If it is daily, then you have a problem. Yelling means that you have lost your cool, the students have the upper hand, and you were unable to detach yourself from the behavior. Do you like to be yelled at? I would assume not.
Challenge yourself not to yell. I did it for a year and much of what I learned and share with you here is rooted in this one simple yet profound challenge. When students act out, I remind them of my expectation or posted rules. I will issue a warning and follow through if they do not comply. Sometimes it means sending them to the office to “cool off” without a detention, sometimes with. I escalate the consequences little by little until they comply. If you hit them with a sledgehammer for the first infraction, they will see you as arbitrary and an ogre they cannot respect and their behavior will get worse. Later in this book I will share with you my approach to disciplinary problems.
9. Seek Professional Growth: Stay current.
I have learned very little from in-school professional growth, though a few things stand out: Information about laws that effect our profession, health issues to be aware of, and suicide prevention, but this is a sliver of the nearly 100 programs I have attended.
The most valuable growth comes when I have been able to meet with colleagues within my subject area and participate in collaborative workshops where we share best practices, lesson ideas, share suggestions, and meet the vendors that supply our department. These often happen at conventions, either state or national, and I would encourage teachers to attend these.
Professional development need not be confined to these areas; you may consider an evening class or two within or related to your subject. The additional classes may help you accrue credit to ascend faster on your school’s salary guide. Many schools will often reimburse part of your tuition based on the grades you receive.
10. Love Your Subject!
Your own feelings of personal well-being have a direct effect on your students. If you teach a subject you do not have a passion about, maybe you should consider a change of subject or career. Students are like little emotional tuning-forks, they can sense if you are “phoning it in” or if your interest is genuine. Your enthusiasm should be contagious.
How does one stay interested and not “burn out” For some, taking their subject outside the classroom is beneficial, easily understood when you think of an art teacher painting and exhibiting. A colleague friend of mine teaches math and tells me that the last thing he wants to do is more math when he gets home. Instead he finds that golf and gardening keep him fresh. You may find a woodworking class for a science teacher may simply allow for creative energies to express themselves and make for a happier person. Some find their bliss in daily work-out routines, quilting, scrapbooking, painting, and exhibiting.
It is especially important that teachers stay fresh and refreshed. Teaching is extremely taxing. I would challenge any hedge-fund-millionaire to do one week in a classroom successfully. Teaching is not for everyone, but at a minimum, you must love what you teach.
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