Teaching tips or advice.
April 25, 2009 12:48 PM   Subscribe

If you have been a teacher for some time, what tips or advice would you give your younger self about the reality of teaching? i.e. things that are only discovered after being in a classroom for a few months/years. ESL-related things preferred but not essential.
posted by Memo to Education (32 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Low expectations make for easy, but unsuccessful, teaching.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:56 PM on April 25, 2009

The only thing ESL kids have in common is that they are learning English.
posted by shrabster at 1:13 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a former ESL teacher with a BEd and experience teaching at all levels, including as a sessional uni instructor and as a corporate trainer. I've also run my own school. I like middle school the best.

- Check out the Theory of Multiple Intelligences
- A good way to get classes settled down is to start off each class with a short, easy worksheet (most problems in class are a result of student frustration). This has solved so many problems... If your class is disruptive or unresponsive, pull out a worksheet. Nothing quiets and focuses students like success at a task
- Plan your activities in 20 minute installments
- Learn your students' names
- Provide hints so all students experience success
- Never put anyone on the spot... draw out shy students during group activity
- Even if the students are quiet, do not assume they don't want to work or that they don't like you.
- Always assume there are *no* stupid students, and that every student has the potential to be successful.
- Be sure to praise all students individually, and never become emotional (eg, angry), and instead focus on problem solving
- Stand up for yourself and identify proper conduct
- Make jokes
posted by KokuRyu at 1:26 PM on April 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

Oh, yeah, and genuinely try to love or hold affection for your students
posted by KokuRyu at 1:32 PM on April 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

You can always get nicer at the end of the semester. You can NEVER get meaner once you've let them walk all over you and your class. Be like March; in like a lion and out like a lamb.

Care about their success as much as they do. Less than that isn't fair. More than that will burn you out quickly.
posted by answergrape at 1:33 PM on April 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

A lot of what koku has said is spot on for general pedagogy.

Be okay with allowing your class, if you can afford it, to go off topic if it seems like your class will get something out of it.

Humor goes a long way.

Don't be afraid to admit you don't know something, and do your best to find it out and/or turn it into an educational experience for the student.

Be careful to ask a variety of questions in a variety of ways (multiple intelligences). I try to rephrase things, when a student does not understand what I am saying/teaching/asking, in wildly different ways or graphically or physically.

Mutual respect goes a long way toward creating a good, healthy class environment. Treat students like people, not like "students". It seems strange to me that many (sometimes good and competent) teachers almost dehumanize their students.

The first year is always the worst year (my wife's first year of teaching almost ended us in divorce -- as in..honey, if you sign that contract...). The second is marginally better. If you make it to year 3 you can begin to think less about survival and more about being a teacher.

I am sure I can spew a few more proverbs...but I will resist the urge.

Good luck with teaching, it can be very rewarding.
posted by sundri at 1:51 PM on April 25, 2009

Dear younger self: Teaching is a skill that has to be learned. In case that didn't get through your thick skill, let me put it bluntly: You are not a good teacher. The only thing you are currently capable of is regurgitating the book. Don't tell jokes. Don't be friendly with the students. Don't make hand outs. Don't have opinions about the course, subject material, or grading system. Don't go off on tangents. Don't be passionate. Don't do ANYTHING except write the formulas on the board, and talk BRIEFLY about them. If the students are not BORED OUT OF THEIR MINDS you're doing it wrong. Regurgitate the book! That is the only thing you are capable of. See how I repeated that? Don't be passionate. Copy shit onto the board. You'll thank me later.
posted by metastability at 2:15 PM on April 25, 2009


metastability reminded me of one of the best pieces of advice I had way back when I was teaching: don't go into the Teacher's Lounge for the first year. Seriously. The Lounge is where all the burnt-out, jaded, just-waiting-until-tenure-or-retirement teachers hang out, whining and complaining. Your enthusiasm is a good thing; don't give it up too easily.

And the "care only as much about your students' success as they do," is really good advice, and why I got out of teaching, because I just couldn't save them all in the end and it tore me apart.
posted by misha at 2:36 PM on April 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if metastability is being ironic or sarcastic or whatever, but copying stuff on the board has its merits.

For my first teaching assignment, I taught social studies to a class of grade 11 students. When the other teachers saw my class roster, they burst out laughing: my class was full of many of the goof-offs from that grade, probably because the other socials teachers knew that I was new and unfamiliar with the students in the school and wouldn't be able to figure it out ahead of time and get the roster changed.

It was a fucking zoo. I attempted to facilitate classroom discussions when it was obvious that about half the class could barely read. Every day was a challenge with the little bastards.

Then I started copying the textbook into a PowerPoint slide and got the kids to copy it into their notebooks. I started administering tests which were essentially fill in the blanks for the textbook.

It wasn't very elegant, but the kids started actually focusing on the curriculum rather than causing havoc during class time.

Focusing on the basics like this is also useful for implementing mastery teaching/learning into the classroom. While the lower-level students are focusing on copying notes into their notebooks (and thereby achieving the basic "C-level" benchmarks for the course), students with more interest or ability in the subject can work on more sophisticated and interesting projects. As a teacher you can create a tiered system of assignments - once a student satisfactory achieves a benchmark they can move up, until they're doing what every teacher wants to achieve in a class - synthesis and creativity (for example, writing a short story about some aspect of history).
posted by KokuRyu at 2:49 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

If it's ESL in particular here is my advice: People will learn to talk if you ask them about things they care about.

If it's teaching in general, same thing: People learn if you're teaching them things they care about.

If students don't have anything to care about, then it's your job to find something.
posted by jeremias at 3:01 PM on April 25, 2009

You will have up and down moments about the profession; it takes a while to figure out if your want to stay with the practice for the long term.

If you can find a way to tap in to your students' motivation, they will take up the other half of the project of teaching, which is their own desire to learn. Help them get their momentum going, that's the core element of learning any topic.

ESL students will be especially motivated rather than students who are forced to take a topic. Make the exercises practical to their goals.

I had college instructors teach me about teaching in two different contexts:

The first instructor took a topic I dreaded learning and made it scintillating with examples and involvement.

The second took a topic I was already very passionate about and made it painful with relentless, monotone lectures.

You should genuinely love the practice of teaching to stay with it, because the job in the objective is too demanding and low paying to be "worth it" in the strict economic sense.

Use the board to outline and cue your lecture--it will make the lecture much more interesting and natural in your delivery than referring to written notes.
posted by effluvia at 3:06 PM on April 25, 2009

My students-- both the pre-candidates and the student teachers-- tend to freak out about classroom management the most. Remember, discipline is not designed to make you “feel better”– is it designed to most effectively adjust behavior and return the student to working productively. You aren't there to lord it over the students. Don't act like it, no matter how tempting. They will sense that there is respect behind your discipline and will (mostly) give it back. Hey, they are kids!

Here is a good book.
Marzano, R. J., Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. J. (2003).Classroom management that works: Research-based strategies for every teacher. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development

Here is another general strategies book, ELL specific, but it is so good I use it in non-ELL classes:
posted by oflinkey at 3:09 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

You've got to find a way to have fun. 10 years from now your best students won't remember much about the curriculum you taught them. But all of your students willl remember the relationships you formed (or didn't).
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 3:10 PM on April 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oops. Sorry-- here is the book.
posted by oflinkey at 3:11 PM on April 25, 2009

The thing my first-year (HS and elementary, music) teacher self most would have benefited from hearing would have been a strong injunction to take SOME time to cultivate meaningful, extracurricular, adult friendships and activities in the new town where I moved to start my first teaching job. I spent practically every waking hour of every day trying to tackle the Sisyphean task of closing the infinite gap between what I knew and was capable of in the classroom and what I aspired to being capable of. When, inevitably, my students cared less about the results and the subject matter than I did, it was very difficult not to take this personally and develop seething resentment. I think a little distance and outside perspective might have helped me 1) have more of a sense of humor about the whole thing, and 2) realize it´s really not all about me.
posted by dr. boludo at 4:23 PM on April 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't give too many assignments that you have to mark & tally. Worksheets are great, but use them as tools rather than as a source of term marks- don't record the grade on every single assignment to contribute to final scores. Make the final grade based on class participation + only 4-5 assignments/tests, not on 20! I learned this the hard way with days and days of marking at the end of the term.
posted by twistofrhyme at 4:28 PM on April 25, 2009

I saw a documentary once on making Samurai swords. At first, the apprentice just cools off the hot metal in a bucket of water. He does that for like six months. Then he wraps the handles, for another six months. Finally, he works his way up to making the entire sword. That's what I was trying to say about teaching: start out by regurgitating the book. Do that for one entire semester. Then start bringing new elements in. Slowly. The point being that teaching is a hard skill to learn.
posted by metastability at 4:39 PM on April 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

About student discipline and classroom management, if the students are actively engaged in learning, poor behavior is a non-issue. Make sure that the students are working hard and you're observing and assessing them as opposed to you working really hard and the students are observing and assessing you. Here's a practical tip... Routines and structure are critical! Invest in an egg-timer. I know it sounds silly, but when you assign individual or group class work, the students pace themselves and transition with the timer. I was in a classroom where the timer went off and the students silently and without being told, put away their silent reading books, took their notebooks and sat on the rug for math.
posted by suzeQ at 5:33 PM on April 25, 2009

Great advice so far. I'm going to be really long-winded...
  • Don't count on getting a full-time job for several years.
  • Don't count on getting a job with health insurance for several years.
  • Grading academic/developmental writing is incredibly draining, and the per-hour pay works out to ... uhhh. (Well, #1-3 may be US-specific.)
  • Learning another language, especially from a language family that's wildly different from your own, is one of the best ways to really gain empathy with your students, learn more about English, learn about some things that don't work well for students, etc. (I don't really have a lot of respect for ESL/EFL teachers who haven't made an effort to try learning another language of some kind; it's a professional asset in so many ways and I'm glad it's required in a lot of MA programs.) Of course, if you're a non-native English speaker teaching ESL, you already win at this.
  • Conferences are not pointless, expensive wastes of time, but wonderful, invigorating, experiences where you sometimes learn more in 90 minutes than you learned in a whole semester as a grad student or a whole year of working as a teacher.
  • If you think you can't afford to go to conferences, think again--there are scholarships to go to TESOL (the big international one), etc. Seek out these opportunities and apply for them. Stay with friends, eat sandwiches, whatever. And be a presenter yourself! My state conference even had a bunch of visitors from Chile on a special government program.
  • You have to keep reading. Keeping up on new developments is as essential for teachers as for doctors. There are tons of free journals if you don't have access to JSTOR and all. Sorry to self-link, but here's a list of free TESOL-related online journals from my blog for ESL/EFL teachers. (Relatedly, learn to just ask if you can get a copy of that book you're eyeing in the dealer's room exhibition hall; they'll tell you no or yes, no harm done. Mm, free books.)
  • There are alternative career paths; I'm running my own business right now, and while I'm kind of thinking I want to do some classroom teaching soon for some variety, it doesn't have to be the only thing you do.
  • If you want to do EFL or teach in another country, sooner is better than later, when it gets complicated. (Spouse, spouse's career, etc.)
  • Join your local TESOL organization and find useful relevant mailing lists, because the tips and support you get from those people is invaluable.
  • Always bring a backup: Extra supplies (an extra marker or whatever), overplan the lesson (extra activities), and have a mental plan for what to do if the technology you have planned to use doesn't work (because it often won't!).
  • Your responsibility is to your students, so if they get excited about reading comics in English but nothing else, you should work with it. On the other hand, you need to keep the parents and/or administration happy, but this is one of several places that being up on your research comes in handy. In this example, if your kids were crazy about comics and you had read Stephen Krashen's The Power of Reading, you'd have 20 pages of research about why comic books are good for vocabulary and grammar development with which to defend your students. A lot of teachers feel trapped between their administrations' and their students' interests, but if you are clever and keep yourself well-informed, you can often use research to your advantage. There are a lot of success stories out there.
  • Say no sometimes. It's great to get on committees, join your local TESOL organizations, start extensive reading clubs, etc., and I really recommend doing MORE than just the minimum teach, grade, go home. But at some point you have to say no--not so long ago I didn't, and I paid for it. You have to get involved, but you have to say no before you reach burnout.
  • Read up on the concepts of world Englishes and social responsibility vis-a-vis the spread of English; think about your role in terms of supporting students' sense of pride in their home languages, other English dialects, etc. Learn about sociolinguistics. Language, racism, politics, globalism, social justice, etc. are all entangled, and pretending they're not is the same as endorsing the status quo.
  • Learn to use the International Phonetic Alphabet and at least consider when it might be useful (sometimes it's impossible to use with students, but sometimes it can be very helpful).
  • The master's was totally worth it.

posted by wintersweet at 5:53 PM on April 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Ditto what Answergrape said. I was an assistant EFL teacher for 2 years and though I wasn't a 'real' teacher, I worked with a lot of different teachers who all had different styles and I could really see the effect it had on the kids.

The year that the kids had a very permissive teacher who just wanted to be their friend...nobody learned anything. And worse than them not learning English, their apathy and bad attitude leached into all their other classes and grades.

That teacher transferred out and her replacement was strict but fair. If you needed help and asked for it, she would move heaven and earth to get it for you. But if you didn't bother to ask for help, you had to deal with the consequences. It was amazing to watch the students not just get dramatically better at their schoolwork under her, but become better people all around.

If I could go back and be a real teacher I'd want to be just like her.

(and for ESL in particular, I used the Jazz Chants book a lot. It helps with getting the rhythm of naturally spoken English)
posted by Caravantea at 7:06 PM on April 25, 2009

Give them work that they can figure out how to do the answers on their own. This will allow them to get on task much more quickly and allow you to go around and help them more.
posted by fantasticninety at 7:54 PM on April 25, 2009

--Move around the room as you're teaching. This eliminates any dead zones, and it makes people sit up.
--Learn about the 8:1 ratio and how to use it in your class. For every negative comment you make to a student, it will take eight positive ones to balance the negative one. (This doesn't mean you need to flatter your students--just that positive, constructive, specific criticism is key.)
--Depending on your age group and how tech-ready your classroom is, podcasts can be a great help in teaching ESL/EFL. (Check out the NPR ones, for example; they always have excellent sound effects and are well-written.) With a worksheet that relates the 'cast to current lessons (listening, vocab, verb tenses, etc.), it's a good way to introduce variety.
posted by SmazenySyr at 9:13 PM on April 25, 2009

# Don't count on getting a full-time job for several years.
# Don't count on getting a job with health insurance for several years.

Really? I got one abroad with both of these things no problem. And I'm a lot happier teaching here in Korea than I was in the States for a number of reasons.

That said, I'm always looking for ways to structure a lesson plan so that it involves the students working independently rather than me "transmitting" the lesson to them. Not only is pedagogically preferred (when done properly), it allows me to catch some free time to do what needs to be done, from setting up the next lesson, writing an e-mail to a parent, or grading the day's homework.

The second most important thing? Teaching and learning styles. By nature I'm a heavy-duty Abstract Random learner (like to read and figure it out for myself, don't like to be told, no real interest in visual explanations of things), so I need to prod myself to vary my approaches to suit the students who are more visual, more concrete, more linear in their thought processes. This was kind of any eye-opener for me, actually. In general, variation is a good thing. Mix it up. Don't allow things to get stale.

There's more of course, but I think that's a pretty good place to start.
posted by bardic at 11:25 PM on April 25, 2009

If it's ESL in particular here is my advice: People will learn to talk if you ask them about things they care about.

ASK, don't TELL.

I am really serious about this. Let nothing come out of your mouth that is not a question. When you are telling people stuff, there is no room for them to be active and engaged.


You talk too much. No, really, you do. Get out of the way.

Self link: join my Moodle site, and read more stuff about teaching ESL.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:30 AM on April 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is so much good information here! Misha’s suggestion to stay out of the teacher’s lounge for the first year is brilliant. Don’t expect all of your co-workers to be helpful or even decent. Some of my colleagues at one public school used “disciplinary techniques” such as insulting kids until they cried and throwing kids up against lockers. Be careful about the advice you take from coworkers, even if it comes from veteran teachers.

Whenever possible, try to limit your grading/paperwork. I would have rolled my eyes at this advice when I started teaching because I did not believe that having time to myself was as important as doing everything I could for my students. What I didn’t realize at the time was that generating lots and lots of gradable assignments wasn’t helpful when I couldn’t get feedback to the students quickly, and timely feedback was impossible when I had 90 quizzes and 60 essays to grade at once. I was constantly behind in my grading and tired from working nights and weekends as I tried to get caught up. It was a recipe for frustration. If I were to go back to the classroom, I’d assign fewer things that I’d need to grade. Think-pair-share and informal assessments can be just as useful as quizzes in many situations, and not all quick writes need a teacher’s attention.

When I was doing my student teaching, an instructor at my college gave my class two pieces of advice related to classroom management that sounded trite when I first heard them. I didn’t understand how important they were until I was in the classroom. Here they are:

Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Tell your kids directly that you care about them. Show interest in them. Be specific in your praise to show them that you’re paying attention to them. Talk very little about yourself—keep focused on them. In the long run, this strategy teaches your students that they are valuable human beings. In the short run, it builds up goodwill that will help you to maintain order in your classroom.

Mean what you say and say what you mean.
Be sure that the expectations you set for your students are realistic and enforceable. Choose consequences that you can and will use. Be sure that the consequences you choose are appropriate. Be consistent. Don’t be “nice” by letting students ignore your rules—it will only cause confusion when you try to enforce the rules again. Instead, be nice by reminding students that you care about them and that you value them as people. If you find that a particular rule is causing you an inordinate amount of work, consider whether it is fair and necessary. If you plan your consequences in advance, it will be easier for you to keep your cool when you have to use them. Finally, don’t take it personally when students act out. Even when they’re making personal attacks, their motives for acting out usually have roots in situations that are far more personal to them than you are.

Good luck! Thank you for helping to educate our kids!
posted by TEA at 6:27 AM on April 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I agree with those who say let the students tell you what they care about and go from there.

I taught ESL to adults off and on in Japan for drinking money. Planning was not only useless but counter-productive. They knew coming in what they wanted to get out of the class, and though I didn't agree, I went with it.

Example: the class decided they wanted to watch the movie "Ghost" along with a script made for Japanese students of English. Every scene, painstakingly rewinded until they got it.

Was it a good use of class time? Probably not, but it made them happy.

In Japan at least private adult students are first and foremost your customers.

Now I'm a teacher of US college kids in another field. Very different rules apply.
posted by vincele at 7:29 AM on April 26, 2009

(Obviously, this depends on the context. I'm picturing grammar school and high school as the context for my comments.)

- Know your subject. "Active" subjects like language and math are half theory, and half practice. Teach what multiplication or verb conjugation is, and then practice, practice, practice. These are things that they will need and use forever. Don't forget that. More passive subjects like history and literature, on the other hand, is about taking information presented and understanding it. And with any luck, remembering it. But if a student doesn't remember anything from the specific topics, they will learn things like picking out the important data, memorization, and the themes and lessons presented.

- Focus on mastery of the basics. If you are teaching addition, keep working at it until your students have mastered it as much as they can. If some of the kids can't add one column of numbers, they are going to be even less successful at two columns. Don't move on until you have mastery. (Think about it- how many kids struggle in some subject because they don't have mastery of the prerequisites?)

- Consider creating a basic skills test for your students to take at the beginning of the year/semester/week. Use the results of that to target the specifics. If the kids come in not knowing some prerequisite, it doesn't matter why. They are going to have to learn it if they are going to succeed.

- But pepper that with opportunities for the above average students to stay engaged. Make tests and activities that have extra credit types of things. But make the extra credit only count if the student has completed the basics successfully. This will give them the motivation to do the basics well- if they want the challenge and enjoyment of the extras, they have to do their "easy" stuff first.

- Never assign activities that will single out the poorer of your students. If they can't do something with what the school provides, you shouldn't be assigning it. The only thing worse that having to do without is having to go up to a teacher and say "my mom says we can't afford to go to Staples and buy a project board" or "we don't have cable, so I can't watch the assigned History Channel program".

- Every classroom of students is new. But the same. Even though you keep growing and getting engaged and disengaged with your career, every new classroom of fifth graders comes in basically the same- 11 years old, with a fourth grade education. Remember that. What worked last year will probably work this year. You might be personally less excited than you were last year, but don't let that affect your students.

- Classroom time is for the students. Use it for that purpose. Not working on lesson plans and returning emails. If students are working on an activity, be available to help them out. If they get stuck on something, have them raise their hand and come up to your desk and talk about it. (Your lesson plan should have been done ahead of time anyway- plan your own work so that you aren't taking time away from your students.)

- No excuses. There is always a reason for something not going well, but there are rarely excuses. A large part of education is teaching people how to overcome obstacles. If you let students believe that it's OK to fail if you have a good excuse, they will begin inventing them. However, temper this with opportunities and kindness- if a kid couldn't get his work done for some good reason, give them an opportunity to make it up. Use it as a teaching moment- despite the fickleness of life, you have to find a way to get your shit done. Stuff happens, but that doesn't excuse us from having to do what we have to do. (Think of it this way- they will be happier and live fuller lives if they learn this. How much time do we all waste looking for excuses to get out of doing the things we need to do, or figuring out ways to game the system, instead of just doing them?)

- Teach time and project management. Teach how to divide time and projects up. How to have realistic expectations. This is something that is sorely lacking in a lot of educational systems. Students go from doing worksheets to having a project due in two weeks. There is rarely a middle ground where we teach how to complete a long term project. Yes, we teach how to make outlines and do research and collate the collected data. But we don't teach the actual skill of how to find time to do these things. Whether we are 8 or 50, the first time we do something, we need our hand held. Then, the second time, we need less. Until eventually we know how to do it and we can move onto the next thing.

- While you are their "boss" when it comes to doling out tasks and facilitating the learning process, remember that you also need to be a trusted adult. They need to know, through your actions and words, that they can come to you with a problem. Never give the impression that coming to you with a problem will be a bigger hassle than not. (Like the recent thread about lying- coming clean about something should always be preferable to trying to hide it.) Maybe the solution you offer won't be the most fun, but if you act in a responsible, trust-worthy way, they will know that coming to you will be better than not.

- Never get angry. Kids of all ages are boundary testers, and if your boundary for acceptable behavior is the same as your boundary for getting upset, they will use that to try to gain power over you.

- It's not about you. What makes any job hard is the psychological act of giving up our own wants, needs and egos for the good of our clients. We do this in exchange for a paycheck. The social contract of work is- you give up some percentage of your time and energy, in exchange for this paycheck that lets you pay your bills.

- Don't blame parents. Giving birth to a kid and keeping them alive long enough to get to school doesn't make them necessarily able to do anything else. Of course it is a tragedy that some parents don't do what they need to, and of course it makes your life harder. But if the parents don't do it, and you don't do it, the kid suffers. Little Timmy needs to learn how to tie his shoes and not to wipe snot on his sleeve. Little Randy needs to learn that deodorant is important.

- Don't let parents bully you, don't bully parents. They can have their rules and beliefs, and that's OK. But in your domain, your classroom, you might have different rules. That's great. If Mr. and Mrs. Flanders have taught their kid to call you ma'am or sir, don't tell the kid to do any different. And if you don't want kids to use your first name in class, and the hippie parents teach their kid to call you Chris, remind everyone that your rules apply in your classroom. Parents can have higher expectations for their kids, but that doesn't require you to lower yours.
posted by gjc at 8:11 AM on April 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

...take SOME time to cultivate meaningful, extracurricular, adult friendships and activities in the new town where I moved to start my first teaching job. I spent practically every waking hour of every day trying to tackle the Sisyphean task of closing the infinite gap between what I knew and was capable of in the classroom and what I aspired to being capable of.

That's some great advice and something I am completely failing to do. All my relationships have atrophied since I began teaching last September.

I honestly have to say, as a first-year teacher counting down the days until summer vacation, that my current advice to anyone interested in pursuing teaching is: don't do it.

Some lessons I've learned while working at an NYC public school:

-Don't let yourself get too far behind on paperwork. I spend about 2 hours a day completing clerical work and it's daunting when I have to address it after taking a day or two off.
-Try not to keep food in your classroom because you'll consume every last bit in a moment of stress, frustration, or anger.
-Do what you can to build students up, but don't be afraid to humiliate them when they're being complete assholes. That's right, humiliate. Sounds horrible, but there are times you'll have a student who is making it impossible for others to learn and you need to get them to stop their disruptive behavior immediately. Use sparingly.
-Songs and singsongy talk can be used to help them memorize material and capture their attention when they're raucous.
-Ask for help from experienced teachers.
-Steal every good idea you see used by good teachers.
-Determine what they hate and use it to threaten them when they're being impossible.
-Reward them when they do anything right. Praise, pretzels, privileges, stickers, whatever.
-Be consistent with your discipline.
-Keep things fresh, mix it up. This applies to management mechanisms and your delivery of content.
-Take time to talk to your students and know what makes them tick. Use their strengths and weaknesses to encourage them, motivate them, or shame them.
-Make your room environment a place in which you enjoy spending time.
-You will not have a Dead-Poet's-Society-Stand-and-Deliver-Dangerous-Minds experience. Don't set out to change the world. Try to make your classroom a safe place to learn and encourage creativity and risk taking, but be realistic in terms of your expectations.
-Don't chit chat with your colleagues after school; get work done.
-Give as many jobs to your students as possible. Sharpening pencils, organizing, etc. Do whatever you can to save yourself time.
-Whenever something can be made into a checklist, do it. Saves time.
-Be really careful how you start the year. If you don't have a procedure for something, make it up on the spot. You will need a procedure for EVERYTHING. When a procedure seems clunky and inefficient, change it. Spend the first 2 weeks practicing procedures. It takes time to save time.
-Say everything with authority. They can't know your tired, scared, confused, sad. You're a leader now. They exploit weakness. They'll feed off your energy. If you're enthusiastic, they'll be enthusiastic.
-Never throw anything away that you won't want them to find in the trash.
-Contact parents with positive news about their student several times in the beginning and throughout the year. Get them on your side.
-Don't be afraid to call the parents when you need to. Call in the middle of class to really make the class know you mean business.
-Know your rights and what's in your contract. If your principal violates your rights, talk to him/her and try to avoid involving the union. Once you run to your union, be ready for a new level of scrutiny from your administration.
-It would be easy to become dependent on alcohol and/or caffeine to get through the day. Exercise, sit in the sun, sing, organize your things, or blame your mother when you're feeling blue.
-Constantly reevaluate what's working and what isn't.
-When you interview, get a sense of the type of leadership style the administrator has. How much autonomy will I have in the classroom? Will I develop my own curriculum or will I be following something scripted? How will I be evaluated? What are your expectations in terms of how much time I'll be expected to lead extracurricular activities? How much support will I receive as a first-year teacher? What is the typical class size?
-You may be reduced to tears several times. It happens. Let it all out. There will be days you'll just want to toss it all in the bucket and not go back. Wallow in self pity for a bit, sleep, scrape yourself off the mattress, and force yourself to go back. You made a commitment to the students and you have to honor it.
-Find a mentor.
-Prepare yourself for long hours.

Some or much of this advice may not apply to you, but I tried to make it somewhat general. Some of it seems cynical and I apologize for that. Do your best, grab hold of anything that makes you feel even the slightest bit successful, and always ask for help when you need it.

Best of luck to you.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:09 AM on April 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Stuff I'm sure about:

You'll mess up once in a while, which a lesson that neither informs, educates, nor entertains. After class, swear, and work out what went wrong. Don't beat yourself up.

If you say you'll do it, do it. Especially if you get asked something that you want to look up. It's important that they trust you.

If one of yours does particularly well, or does something out of the ordinary, a quiet "well done" or "thank you" at the end of the lesson is in order.

Force them to be active - ask them questions that expose exactly what bit of language they don't know, and need to learn. That creates the perfect moment to give them the information.

Get them into the habit of answering fully.

Challenge them.

Stuff I'm less sure about, but believe:

Don't be totally robotic - they can know you're tired/annoyed etc. Language is used to express emotion. (Depending on the age/type of students)

If they're communicating in English, let them. Don't break the spell. Even if it's a digression.

Don't get caught behind the desk while they sit in silence on a task. Perambulate and let them know that you are in "ask me questions" mode.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:40 PM on April 26, 2009

I'm not a classroom teacher, but rather an after-school program skating coach, and what I've really learned is that I am NOT rearing these children. I am their teacher for this one subject. I can impose my rules, values and standards on them within the limits of the sport and the small amount of time I have, but it's not my responsibility to make their parents better at parenting, to turn them into model citizens, or to make them better people. It is my job to teach them how to skate.

I teach a lot of 3 to 5 year olds, and I have a lot of clueless parents tell me that they're bringing their kids to skating class to learn how to listen, to "socialize," to learn manners, all sorts of things. Wrong. Not. My. Job. I teach skating.

I used to really subscribe to the "it takes a village" philosophy, but now I think it's better to focus on the task at hand. That some of my students become better people (both kids and parents) because of their encounters with me is just a bonus.
posted by nax at 3:12 PM on April 26, 2009

In my first high school teaching job I tried to do the equivalent of "avoid the teachers' lounge" (we didn't actually have one) in order to get more done in my free time rather than gossip about students, which I've never had an interest in doing. I was quickly marked as an asshole by the other teachers for this.

So while I agree it's good advice in theory, be aware that teachers by nature (in my experience) are a catty and gossipy and petty bunch. Or at least they can be. God forbid you don't go out to the lame-ass bowling night sponsored by your jagoff of an upper school principal.

(Yes, I'm a little bitter. My first high school teaching experience was not a good one.)
posted by bardic at 5:18 PM on April 26, 2009

@bardic, yes. That would be why I said "#1-3 may be US-specific"...
posted by wintersweet at 8:53 PM on April 26, 2009

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