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8 Essential Teaching Tips from Someone Who Has Seen It All

8 Essential Teaching Tips from Someone Who Has Seen It All

Follow the tried and true teaching techniques of someone who has been there, done that.

When I was a new teacher, I got a lot of practical teaching tips from veteran colleagues. One tip was to seat kids alphabetically so I'd learn their names quickly. Another was to use a laminated hall pass to avoid writing a new one every time a student asked to go to the bathroom. Most, but not all, of their tips were useful—I decided not to make kids turn their desks around and face the wall if they misbehaved.

As a veteran educator myself, it's now my duty to share teaching tips, based on what I've learned over time, that might be useful to perspective teachers or those just starting their careers.

1. Don't Grade Everything

When I was a new teacher, I dragged home a briefcase stuffed with students' work every night. I collected everything—homework, rough drafts, work sheets—and spent my evenings and weekends trying to grade it all.

Further reading: Formative Assessments

Then I went to a workshop that explained that grades should indicate progress toward mastery, not whether kids had done homework. I continued to grade tests, of course, but I learned to use classroom strategies like writing workshops and think-pair-share so kids could share their work and learn together.

2. Let Students Know What's Going On

I used to just hand out the books and start teaching, but it's a lot easier to get where you want to go if everyone's onboard. Students should know what they're going to learn, why they're learning it, and how it'll be evaluated. I also learned to use a rubric so that kids know right from the beginning how their work will be evaluated and, therefore, what they should strive for.


3. Explain Procedures and Expectations

It's a mistake to assume the students in your class know how to work in a group or how to behave on a field trip. However, most kids will cooperate if they know what they're supposed to do. Remember, as an educator, you have to teach not only the "what" but the "how."

4. How You Treat Students Matters

What you say to students, or how you treat them, can make or break their day. When I was a new teacher, I didn't fully understand how an off-handed comment or criticism could affect a child. Once my own kids started school and came home with stories about what their teachers said or did, I realized the impact we can have on students. After that, I kept a poster in my room that said, "They won't always remember what you taught them, but they'll always remember how you treated them."

5. You Don't Know Every Kid's Home Life

A friend of mine teaches at a high school where 44 different languages are spoken, and she told me that she overheard a student say, "I'm really tired. Last night, I had to sleep next to someone who snored." Kids might be dealing with issues we know nothing about, so don't assume video games are to blame when homework isn't done.

6. Keep Your Sense of Humor

I was so serious about being a good teacher, I didn't see the role humor could play in my classroom. After a few years though, when I had more skills and more confidence, I was able to let my guard down and actually be funny or silly. Even better, my students began to understand that they could make jokes now and then, and we could all laugh together.

7. Socializing with Colleagues Is Good for You

Whether it's the faculty holiday party, Relay for Life, or stopping at the local pub for a drink on Friday, sharing the joys and frustrations of teaching and supporting one another is essential to your well-being. Forming close bonds with a colleague can even improve your levels of job satisfaction, so don't isolate yourself.

8. Your Connection to Your Students Might Surprise You

I've known teachers who loved their subject and loved teaching, but who didn't necessarily love kids. They didn't dislike kids; they just kept their professional distance. I was like that at the very beginning of my career. But as I became more skilled and comfortable in the classroom, I began to really enjoy connecting with my students as people, and teaching became a lot more fun.

At the end of the year, I always ask my students to write a letter to their core teachers, telling us what they liked, what they didn't like, and how we could improve. The letters are honest, funny, and often heartfelt. One student wrote: "I loved all my classes (math best of all) and I knew you guys cared about us." I didn't even teach math, but I kept that letter.

Further reading: A Teacher's Love for Punk Rock Music Helps Her Connect to Students

As I look back, I realize that my focus as an educator was always on the best ways to interact with kids. Maybe that's the most important tip. Make sure your students know that you care about them, and the rest will fall into place.