Listen to a voice of experience

Quoting from Second Drafts, verbatim:

My mother, Charlotte, just retired in May after 30+ years teaching high school English. As this will be her first August without having to prep for school, I thought I’d better ask for her top ten teaching suggestions before she forgot them all. Here’s what she emailed me:

  1. Establish a seating chart at the beginning, but allow time for schedule changes. Some of my colleagues would allow students to sit where they wanted, and they all would end up at the back of the room. I always wanted them under my nose!
  2. Greet students cheerfully. You may be the only one to do this in their day.
  3. Have high expectations, but be realistic.
  4. Dress professionally, even though others don’t.
  5. Be alert to students whose eyes are focused on their laps – they’re probably texting!
  6. You gotta have a gimmick – a daily trivia question written on the board works well here. I always used the question cards from the Trivial Pursuit game. The first person to answer as the students come into the room gets a piece of peppermint candy, which enhances higher level thinking skills.
  7. Surprise the kids once in a while by diverting from the syllabus (Thoreau would love you for this).
  8. Be consistent in routine and discipline.
  9. Take care of discipline problems yourself, as much as you can.
  10. Be real and enjoy your students.

School starts tomorrow. Anybody else got any counsel you’d like to share?

3 Responses to Listen to a voice of experience

  1. jd2718 says:

    I establish seats at the beginning, but back in my first school, with desks in rows, and when I finally had non-freshman classes, I would pitch: “You guys are” (sophs or juniors or whatever) “and not freshmen anymore. You don’t need me to assign seats. Sit anywhere you like, any day, as long as there are no empty seats in front of you”

    They thought they were getting over. And know what? They sat in the same seat each day. And if someone was absent, they automatically shifted forward.

    I think we all end up with our own variations. It’s fun learning each other’s twists.


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Good luck on the next one. It sounds like an administration issue to me, not you.

    To the teacher, it looks like teachers are cogs in a big machine. To at least one student in each class, the teacher is a ticket to sanity and a much better life — if we do our jobs. Teachers don’t get rich in money. It’s the psychic rewards that make teachers live long lives, we hope.


  3. spudbeach says:

    Well, after getting canned after one year of teaching HS physics, calculus and statistics, I can see that list and empathize. Looking back on the year, I think I did a really good job on numbers 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, and 10. I skipped seating charts, I didn’t worry about texting, I wasn’t smart enough to have a gimmick, and I changed the syllabus as I went.

    Did it do me any good? No, not really. The high school I was at had a real problem with math education. They used a math curriculum (Core-Plus Math) that emphasized students learning by exploring, rather than doing. So, when they got to AP calculus and AP statistics, they weren’t prepared. Complaints to the principal, one observation, and boom, out on my keister. The funny thing is, during that one observation by the principal, I was also being evaluated by my student teaching superviser, who thought I did a worthy job of it.

    So, what’s my lesson from my year of teaching high school? Recognize that life isn’t fair, and that there are some “truths” that are incontrovertible, whether they are true or not, such as “it’s the new teacher’s fault, not mine”.

    I’ve got another job, teaching over the internet. If that doesn’t work out, I’m going to take my four years of undergrad math, seven years as a working actuary, eight years in physics grad school, and four years of substitute teaching and chuck it out the window.

    Am I bitter? Yep, just a touch. No matter what the window dressing, teachers really are just interchangable cogs in the education-industrial complex.


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