When I was going to college I was very idealistic about what a teaching career would be like, but aren’t we all? College is designed to teach us theory and best practices in an isolated environment, in Florida at least. The amount of time that I actually spent in a classroom during the four years I was was working on my Bachelors Degree in Secondary Social Science Education was minimal. When it came time to student teach, I though I was completely prepared, but I soon learned that wasn’t exactly the case.
Truth be told, my student teaching and subsequent first year as a full-time teacher were among the hardest things I have ever professionally accomplished. Those years tested me in emotional, intellectual, and physical ways that I had not been able to anticipate before stepping foot in a classroom that was completely mine to run and manage. Despite the challenges I faced, my student teaching and first year as a full-time teacher were also among the most fulfilling and satisfying things I have ever done.
Your first year teaching is not going to be easy, but it will definitely be worth it. Here are three important lessons that I have learned after teaching full-time for three years at the high school level. I hope that my knowledge will be helpful to you as you get ready to step foot in your own classroom for the first time or just return to school after a summer of relaxation and rejuvenation!
- Have a procedure for absolutely everything and teach it over and over again as necessary! High school students like a routine just as much as middle and elementary school students. During my first year teaching I did a terrible job teaching classroom procedures. I didn’t have a clear picture of what I wanted my classroom to look, feel, and sound like. As a result, my classroom was often chaotic. While I was in the midst of my first year I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the problem was. I thought I had established routines when I really had not. It wasn’t until I gave my students an end of the year survey (more about that here) that the lack of established procedures became completely apparent. I knew that I needed to do a better job of teaching procedures so I spent the summer scouring Pinterest and other websites to get ideas for classroom procedures that I could use. The following school year, I implemented and taught classroom procedures just like I would teach one of my history lessons. The difference in my classroom, and sanity, was apparent immediately. So here is my advice to you, figure out what you want your classroom to look, feel, and sound like and then establish and teach procedures to make that vision a reality.
- Respect your students and treat them as adults. When they ask questions, give them honest and straightforward answers. Keep it matter of fact. Your students will respect you for it. In conversations with my high school students it has come up time and time again that they don’t like it when the perceive their teachers to be “playing games” or lying to them even when the teachers aren’t doing any such thing.
- Follow through with what you say you are going to do. During my first year in the classroom I was too nice. I would say one thing and then do another. This led to confusion and frustration for both my students and myself. If you tell your students that you will not accept late work, don’t accept it. If you tell your students that they will get a detention the next time they take their phone out, write that detention. It’s about having “street cred” with your students, for lack of a better term. By following through what what you say you are going to do your students will quickly learn that they won’t be able to manipulate your decisions and play on your emotions to get their way.
So, there it is. During my second and third years teaching I established procedures, treated my 10th graders as adults, and followed through with what I said I was going to do. These three adjustments completely changed my classroom from a chaotic place to a very pleasant environment where my students and I knew what was expected of each other and could have fun learning together.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned during your tenure as a teacher?