As with parenting, there’s no perfect roadmap for teaching. Every school, every grade level, and every class is different, and each new challenge requires teachers to continue to learn, grow, and expand their bag of tricks. However, some wisdom stands the test of time, even during a pandemic. We surveyed some veteran educators to get their sage advice for those new to the classroom.
You’re not always on call.
Let’s face it: Your day doesn’t end when the students leave. Far from it. Still, it’s essential to make time for stress-free activities because your personal well-being is just as important as grading those papers. They’ll be there tomorrow.
You’re nurturing someone’s most precious being.
Even the best teachers face criticism and pushback. Why? Because we’re helping people’s children—the most important person to them in the world. Love heightens all emotions, and parents’ emotional responses come from the most genuine of places, even if it can feel hurtful at times. So be open to feedback, have a growth mindset, and remember, it’s not always about you.
Faculty and staff are rooting for you. All of them.
It takes a small army to run a school. Your fellow teachers, the administrators, and the maintenance, custodial, library, and culinary staff are all working to help your students succeed. So take time to befriend and ally with all of them, because you’re in this together.
There is no timeline for success.
Don’t measure your success by day or week or month. What you accomplish (or don’t) each day will weigh heavily on you, and it will help you plan tomorrow. But most of the time, you won’t know what worked until decades later, when your kids find you and tell you they remember that one thing you don’t remember (or really hoped they’d forgotten!) and how that one small thing changed the way they think or feel or believe. Don’t expect short-term outcomes; it will take longer than you think for your lessons to land, and guess what? That’s wonderful!
Kindness and authority are not opposing forces.
You may have heard the advice that you shouldn’t smile at your students until November. Forget that. You can be likable and kind to students while still holding them accountable.
Soft skills are invaluable.
One of the best ways to stand out as an educator is to learn how to work and foster intentional collaboration with parents. As the dean for a College of Education, I received countless messages from our partner schools that they valued our more mature (e.g., older) student–teachers because they had learned strategies for dealing with difficult situations and people, diffusing negative or hostile encounters, and adapting to change. Districts can work with teachers to improve instructional strategies, but possessing these kinds of “soft skills” will make you invaluable.
Learning is everything.
In a world of state testing and Instagram comparisons, it’s sometimes hard to remember that learning is what matters most. Not the score. Not the deadline. Not the number of assignments completed. Not the cute classroom. Not the newest trend. Just the learning. Focus on that, and everything else will fall into place.
Not every student is tech-savvy.
Before teaching, I never realized how privileged I was to have access to and training in technology from a young age. I’m a Luddite, and a proud one at that. Yet I didn’t realize how much more advanced I’d be with perfunctory technology than some of my students. I just assumed that my older students—many of whom grew up in rural or impoverished areas—would know how to operate a computer. That wasn’t the case. I spent at least part of my teaching time navigating that issue. As the digital classroom became a default setting in 2020, the tech skills gap is becoming an even bigger challenge, and we can’t take students’ technological literacy for granted.
You’re a professional.
Teaching is one of those professions that everyone has an opinion on. Outsiders might spout off about how they could manage a classroom better than you, or think that lesson planning is as simple as printing off a neat little packet from the Internet, or that helping students learn something for the first time is as easy as saying the right words one time. But you’re a professional. You’ve gone through years of schooling and preparation for this job, and you deserve all the respect that comes along with that.
Empathy goes a long way.
Whether you’re talking to students, parents, or fellow staff members, always seek to understand before drawing any conclusions. Not reacting until I sought to understand more has saved me from making…well, a lot of mistakes.
A student’s past is not predictive.
Sometimes a student’s reputation reaches you before he or she ever walks into your classroom. Or your own experiences with a student can cloud future interactions. However, it’s important not to make assumptions of students or let past impressions decide the student’s future experience with you. Consider how one open-minded teacher can change a student’s entire journey in school. Whatever grade you teach, help make your students’ school year one to remember.