I was returning workbooks to my students, and to save a few steps, I gently tossed some books onto desks. One of the children chided me, saying, “You really shouldn’t make a practice of that!”
You’re right, Ryan, I really shouldn’t toss the books. Lesson learned—the students watch the teacher very carefully, and pick up those words, gestures, and behaviors.
I enjoy “Top 10” lists, and decided to develop a list of “Top 10 Lessons the Teacher has Learned.” These lessons come from my 32 years of experience teaching first grade. If you would assess me on the lessons, we might find that I am still working on some of them!
- Your students are carefully watching and pick up on what you say and do. Be a good example for them!
- Be flexible. You can (and should) plan lessons carefully, but be aware that you may not be able to follow that plan. Someone may throw up, you may have an unexpected visitor, the students may not understand and you must reteach, or there may be a teachable moment that comes up in the middle of the lesson.
- Take advantage of those teachable moments. A student may ask a question that is unrelated to the lesson, but it concerns them and needs to be addressed. It may be a comment from a student, such as I heard during a Bible story, when Gail blurted, “Mean God!” I needed to deviate from the lesson and help Gail understand that God is not mean, but He is just.
- Changes usually work out fine. Be open to changes, and be willing to try new things or new procedures. Once we had a new administrator who wanted to change our recess and lunch schedules. At first, I felt reluctant to do that because our former schedules had worked okay. I did not say anything, though, and went along with the changes. In the end, I found that I liked the new way better!
- Set boundaries for the students and keep them. I remember how Bryan behaved at the beginning of the year. He kept pushing every rule and procedure and I wondered how the year was going to go. After a couple weeks, Bryan settled in and was very cooperative and a good student. I realized that he was testing all the boundaries. Once he found they did not change, he knew what to expect, and he could concentrate on learning. Be consistent. Children need to feel secure, and consistency will help them feel secure.
- Don’t listen to the advice of “Don’t smile until November!” Start the year with a smile, and keep smiling. Be firm and consistent, but be friendly and kind, too. Let the students know that you are glad they are in your class.
- Lay out a general idea of your plans for the year. Don’t make detailed lesson plans for the entire year, but at the beginning of the school year, think of your goals, what you want to accomplish, and main topics for each subject. I think of this simple but helpful, method of planning:
- Where are we going?
- How are we going to get there?
- How will we know we’ve arrived?
- Remember that each child is special and loved. Yes, some children are easier to love, but each one is special. Ask God for help to love those unlovely children, and look for areas to encourage each child. These children are precious to their parents and the parents are trusting you to teach and lead them well. Present difficult information to the parents in a way that does not cut down the child or the parenting skills. (If the child is not precious to his parents, be especially aware and help that child know that they are precious to God and to you.)
- Prayer is vital! I couldn’t teach without prayer. I pray each morning for the class, my teaching, and the school. Pray with the students. I start and end each school day with prayer. Pray with the child you’ve just corrected. Pray for students’ prayer requests. Sometimes my prayer is a very quick, “Help me!” when I don’t know how to handle a situation. David had a hard time adjusting to school at the beginning of the year, and cried nearly every day. One morning his mom called the office to see how David was doing. The secretary checked with me, so I asked David, “Are you doing okay?” His answer: “Of course! You prayed for me, didn’t you?”
- Keep in mind that teaching is a calling and a ministry, not something you do for the money. My students have asked me where I work, or if I have a job! This school is where I work, but I don’t feel like I’m going to work every day. This is my mission. Trust God to provide – He will! I still remember one of the early summers when one week I had just enough money for a loaf of bread and a birthday card for my grandma. God provided and I always made it through.
I do believe that God has placed each child in my classroom, at my school, and He has placed me there as the teacher. All 719 first-graders that I have taught are special and I enjoy seeing them throughout their school careers and then meeting up with many of them as adults (and teaching with some of my former students and teaching their children)!