Fortune Cookies for (New) Teachers

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March 7, 2014

As another spring is upon us, even though it may not look like spring outside everywhere now, we can look forward to college graduation season soon. That means the next class of graduating educators will enter the profession and soon begin work in classrooms. 
Supporting new teachers is something that is a very important aspect of building the profession and improving student learning. Often when I work with new teachers, they ask for 'tips and hints' to help them out in their early career. I can remember doing the same as an emerging educator. When it comes down to it though, tips for teaching are useful to all classrooms and educators. 
Many of the most beneficial ideas that can support classroom teachers are timeless principles that have been passed on from teacher to teacher. I thought it might be useful to sum up some of the best advice, which I have been given over the years from countless colleagues, mentors, and education leaders, to share with other teachers. 
The following are my top 25 favorite insights for any teacher, but especially for new teachers:
  1. Keep teaching and learning the main thing, because that is the main thing
  2. Be flexible – in everything – think if your own child were a student in your classroom, how flexible would you want the teacher to be with your student?
  3. Eat meals during the school day; a snack/protein bar is NOT a meal; additionally, many of them are basically just sugar anyway
  4. Stay grounded in reality – you may not reach every student in the same way, or even in a meaningful way, but you should still try
  5. Stay in the loop with popular culture – staying current helps keep you in-touch with your students so you know what is important to them in their world – then, make content relevant!
  6. If you coach a sport, remember which job (relatively speaking) is your $4,000/yr job and which is your $40,000/yr job
  7. Problem-based learning and project-based learning are not just headings in your education textbooks; these methods represent some of the best ways to engage kids in learning
  8. Teacher-centered instruction is out-of-style
  9. Dress professionally – always – it sets the tone for the classroom and school
  10. Learn everyone’s name and use names often with staff and students alike
  11. “The good ones will always have a job” – so make sure you are one of the good ones
  12. Use technology to support instruction, don't use instruction to support technology
  13. Make and carry business cards for yourself with basic contact information on there – you never know when you might need them
  14. If your personal email address is, CHANGE IT NOW!
  15. Be less helpful – don’t "spoon feed" information to students; do more student-centered or inquiry-based instruction to help them develop knowledge, skills, and abilities
  16. Make a single item portfolio, or shortfolio, with your resume, references, contact information and a title page with some pictures of you doing good teaching stuff on it. This should be a 11″ x 17″ 4-page booklet.
  17. Make all your professional information available online somewhere – so it can be easily accessed by anyone online (then you can put the shortened custom URL to that online space on your business card)
  18. Don’t fall victim to the curriculum checklist philosophy of teaching where you do things just to say “I covered that” or you checked it off your ‘to teach’ list – teach for understanding!
  19. Be a team player
  20. Plan your learning goals intentionally, ahead of time, with student- and make them explicitly known to students
  21. Get enough sleep – seriously, don’t stay up until 1:00am doing grading or something – a tired teacher is not going to be at their best 
  22. Make your teaching practices and decisions transparent to students – letting them (and parents) in on why you do things the way you do them makes for more reflective and metacognitive students
  23. Invite administrators, colleagues, parents and others into your classrooms to see what you are doing – then engage them in a conversation about what they saw
  24. Important Fable #1: The Grasshopper and the Ant – be the ant people, be the ant!
  25. Important Fable #2: The Tortoise and the Hare – this one goes back to #18…which character will you be?
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