Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Things I wish someone had told me before I started teaching

(or maybe they did and I just didn't listen...)

A former professor recently asked me to write up some advice for new teachers that she could share with her students. I'm sure she was expecting just a paragraph or two, but that would have been so unlike me. Instead, I came up with a list of ten topics and I described each one in some depth. Over the next few days, I'll be posting that list here.

Drumroll, please....

Tip #1: Don't be afraid to try your own thing.

When I left college, I had lots of ideas for what I wanted to do in my own classroom. I'd learned about Reader's and Writer's Workshop throughout my internship, and I'd become well-versed in the benefits of inquiry-based instruction in all subject areas. Then I arrived at my first teaching job, where I was one of three fifth grade teachers and about one-third of the age of the other two. I remember sitting at our first grade-level meeting in preparation for the school year, and the first topic they brought up was how to divide up photocopying of the worksheets supporting the basal readers. Alarm bells immediately echoed in my head. I could not even imagine making packets of worksheets every week. There are times when worksheets can be helpful to reinforce a concept, but to use them always seemed like a waste of time and energy to me.

But I was the new teacher, and they were the veterans. They'd taught the grade level before, and they'd both been teaching longer than I'd been alive. Who was I to question their practices?

They copied the packets for me, and I promptly shoved them deep within my file cabinet. I wasn't going to use them, but I wasn't confident enough to tell them. After the cabinet began to fill and my guilt for needlessly killing trees accumulated, however, I finally just told them that they didn't need to make copies for me anymore. I explained that to guide my language arts teaching, I was using some other resources that I'd be happy to share, and I was putting the basal on hold for a while. They didn't seem to care – it saved them time at the copier – and I taught my own way the rest of the year.

The point is, there are many different methods and styles for teaching. While some may be more or less effective than others, you need to experiment to find the style that works for you. It's an ongoing process that evolves based on the students you have, your interests, and the resources you have available. Just because your colleagues have a particular teaching style doesn't mean that you have to model them. It's kind of like the story "The Ugly Duckling." Don't try to be something you're not.

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