Our school year is over. The report cards are filled out the last time and the permanent records are back in the file cabinet. The seniors have graduated, and we’ve had our last day of school celebration. The classroom has its summer look: semi-bare walls, empty desks, filed flashcards, and pulled window blinds. Everyone is ready to enjoy summer break.
But while finishing the last tasks of this year, I found myself reflecting on my early years of teaching. Here are a few things I would like to tell my younger self.
Don’t be too shy, hesitant, insecure, or proud to ask questions of more experienced teachers. It’s okay to not know all the answers already. And even though you think your ideas are as good or maybe even better than the previous teachers, ask anyway. There may be reasons for doing things that you don’t know about.
Remember that little boys are energetic, boisterous, and loud by nature. They are not trying to be bad. Yes, they need to learn to sit properly, walk in the halls, and leave the roughhousing for outside of school. But just because they forget, doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want to obey. Sometimes you need to help them remember. But don’t think that every time they forget it is because they are just rebellious.
Young students need lots of practice, drill, and review and more practice, drill, and review. Few students remember to use capital letters and punctuation without practice. Math facts do not stick in minds without understanding and repetition. Reading takes practice, practice, and more practice until it becomes automated.
You cannot solve all your students’ problems. Your responsibility is to the students during the hours they are at school. You are responsible for their academic learning and their social life at school. Yes, you can and should provide a haven during the six hours they are in your care, and teachers do influence their students. However, we cannot be the savior of every child we teach—that’s not our responsibility.
Don’t take things too personally. A disrespectful, disgruntled, or disobedient student is not necessarily acting against you as a person but against the authority you represent. The parent who chews you out may be acting from their own frustration of being in a no-win situation-especially if it concerns misbehavior on the part of their child.
Be clear in your expectations. Tell, show, demonstrate, and practice how you want things done. Make sure students know what you expect. Then expect students to carry through.
Kindness and consistency go a long way in creating a happy classroom.
Parties, treats, and rewards are not what make students do what you ask them to. They can add spice and energy to the school year but do not expect rewards to do your job.
Don’t say things you don’t mean. Don’t threaten punishment if you aren’t prepared to follow through. In like manner, don’t make promises you can’t keep.
Keep goals for yourself and your students attainable. Stretch a little but don’t stretch so much that one gives up.
Success begats success. Hard work never hurts anyone, but hard work with no success is discouraging. Success is, in itself, a reward for the hard work.
Teaching school is work, sometimes very hard work. It is not a job you do by yourself. You need the help of those around you: your co-teachers, the parents, your board, and the principal. But most importantly you need the help and wisdom of God.
I would also like to tell my younger self that teaching brings joy, laughter, delight, appreciation, sighs, disappointment, tears, and frustration. It holds something that brings me back year after year. But for now, I’m going to enjoy the summer months.