By Zemen Marrugi, M.Ed.
Being a successful classroom teacher is more than just being textbook ready. Unlike other professions, graduating top of your class will not necessarily prepare you for a great career in the field of education. Here are ten tips I have prepared for anyone that is starting their first year as a classroom teachers.
Tip #1: Be open to constructive criticism
It is easy for us to say that we are open to feedback, but do we actually take it when it is given to us? My advice to you is to be open to criticism, regardless of how you may feel about the messenger and how prideful you may be. Feedback can help you grow because there is always room for improvement, no matter how talented you think you are as a teacher. Remember that the only way you will grow as an educator is if you allow yourself to learn from those that are successful in the field and if you are willing to acknowledge your areas of needed improvement.
Tip #2: Be prepared!
Do not assume that you can just come to class, wing it and expect your students to have record breaking results by the end of the year. Whether you have a self-contained classroom where you teach all of the core subjects or a one subject classroom, you still have to begin each day well prepared. Take the TE home and study the subject on a daily basis. Do the assignments at home and look up related information so that you are prepared for the questions the students may ask you. Also, you will have to commit the same amount of “learning phase” if you are moving to another grade level or another subject. I taught fourth grade for five years and then moved to teaching sixth grade last year. The curriculum, as you can imagine, was different than what I was used to so I had to commit a lot of time to learning the new content. Just because I was a veteran teacher did not mean that I was going to succeed in the new grade level so I had to commit time to learning the new material.
Tip #3: Behavior Management! Behavior Management! Behavior Management!
In real estate, it is all about location, location, location. Well, in the field of education, we know that in order to have a successful classroom, it is all about the behavior management. From day one, new teachers need to understand on how big of a role their behavior management skills will play in their students’ academic success. If you find yourself struggling, I strongly recommend you observe a teacher in the building that has good behavior management in their classroom. Also, ask an administrator to model some techniques on how to redirect students that are off tasks. I will share some behavior management techniques on a later blog.
Tip #4: Get Creative
Do not be afraid to get creative when delivering the material to the students. Get in costume! Use props! Bring out all the stops and make learning fun. I am a big advocate for teachers that step out of the box and bring the curriculum to life, which is why I love to use music, costumes and lots of creativity in my teaching. How are the students expected to get excited about the material if we sound bored with what we are teaching? Our enthusiasm rubs off on them, which is why we need to teach with all of our heart. Great way to get creative would be to plan your day in advance, which is why Tip #2 is so important.
Tip # 5: Analyze the Data
Familiarize yourself with the school’s data, especially that of your incoming students. You need to be aware of where they are, academically, and where they need to be by the end of the year. If you are not familiar on how to translate the data, seek assistance from your administrative team. Also, read articles on the different assessments that your students will be taking throughout the year. Check out my later blog on different test taking strategies to use with your students.
Tip #6: Don’t burn yourself out
Do not join ten different committees to show how dedicated you are to your job. It is all about quality, not quantity that will make you stand out. There are so many teachers that burn themselves out by working harder, not smarter. These teachers eventually leave the profession within the first five years because they did not use their time wisely. Remember to get some rest on a daily basis and to dedicate time to your personal life. However, I still strongly believe that you need to put a hundred percent effort into your job. You will eventually get what you put in so although I am telling you not to burn yourself out, I still want you to understand that you will work very hard the first few years to build a strong career.
Tip #7: Become a lifelong learner
Understand that you will continue to learn new ideas, new curriculum and new techniques on a regular basis to improve your craft as an educator. As a lifelong learner, your education will not stop with a Bachelors degree. Most teachers pursue a higher degree and receive additional endorsements, certifications and eventually get a Masters degree. Always keep in mind that the additional education is meant to improve your skills as an educator. Over the years, you will narrow down exactly what part of education you are mostly interested in, from curriculum to educational leadership to administration.
Tip #8: Be flexible
If there is one thing I have learned about the field of education is that change is inevitable. The more flexible you are with these constant changes; the better teacher you will be because new studies are always made available to teachers about assessment, curriculum and how to successfully reach out to our students. Always keep in mind Tip #1 about accepting constructive criticism. A big part of being flexible is about responding well to feedback when given to you. If you just keep in mind the overall goal of educating children, then you will be much more accepting of these changes because they are meant to help you grow and improve your skills as an educator.
Tip #9: Build your resources
As a first year teacher, I spent a lot of time hopping from one yard sale to another, collecting different items from children’s books, baskets, kids’ movies for recess and random household furniture like side tables for my listening station and yard furniture for my reading garden. I also purchased a lot of books shelves and organizing bins from businesses that were closing shop. One man’s trash is another teacher’s treasure because I was able to make use of all of these items. Also, teachers these days have Pinterest, a phenomenal resource that is full of DIY projects.
Tip #10: Parental Partnership
A vital part in any child’s life is the role his or her parents plays in their everyday life. Regardless of what district or city you teach in, a one hundred percent parental participation can be reached if you put in the work it will take to get the parents involved in the classroom. I have been teaching in inner city Detroit for the past seven years and I always aim at getting all of the parents in my classroom involved. Keep in mind that not every parent will get involve the same way. Some parents are able to donate items from your classroom’s wish list, while others are able to volunteer a couple hours a month in the class. Use a variety of methods to update the families with information regarding what is happening in the classroom and encourage all parents to play a role in the classroom. Check out my later blog on creative parental partnership ideas.
I have shared these tips with you because I know that it takes more than just one skill, one technique and one secret to become a strong teacher. A successful classroom is not made of just one method and you cannot rely on one tip to help you make it through your career as an educator. Just like our students’ diverse learning abilities, you will need to utilize a variety of different teaching styles in your classroom. To have a productive teaching career, you will need to take it all in from constructive criticism to being well prepared before every class. You will need to constantly work on improving your behavior management skills so that you have a controlled classroom, full of rigorous and differentiated instruction that creatively challenges each child. You also need to constantly be aware of the data and know where your students are performing and allow the data to drive your instruction. Do not get overwhelmed or intimidated by the amount of work it takes to run a successful classroom. Keep your enthusiasm about the field of education alive by keeping up with new research and staying flexible with the changes that will come about. Just like any other career, your commitment and dedication will determine your success. Good luck and welcome to the profession that makes all of the other professions possible.