7 Pieces of Advice I’d Give to Myself If I Were to Start Teaching Again

Charles VerheyTeacher Life

February 15, 2019
Anna Gessner

I started writing seven pieces of advice to new teachers about things that I have learned so far in my teaching career, but as I wrote, I realized that the most important pieces of advice that I have are things that I am still working on as a teacher. All of us, whether this is our 20th year teaching or our very first, must grow and change so that we can reach our students, who are also growing and changing. Here are my seven pieces of advice to new teachers, experienced teachers, and myself.

1. Stop comparing yourself to other teachers.

Comparing yourself to other teachers will never lead you to where you want to be in your teaching life. Wishing you had this person’s schedule, that person’s planning and organizational skills, this person’s technology knowledge (“tech-knowledge,” if you like puns), or another person’s flawless accent (for World Language teachers) will only lead to excuses, lack of motivation, jealousy, and dissatisfaction in your job. On the flip side, looking down on other teachers’ organizational skills methods, practices, or teaching styles will keep you from learning from those around you. Stop comparing! Be the best teacher you can be with the training you have, the skills you have acquired, and the resources you have access to in order to teach the students in front of you.

2. Stop feeling like you have nothing to contribute.

You are not good at everything. You ARE good at lots of things. You can and should share your strengths with other teachers who could benefit from you. What is working in your classroom? Share it! What have you learned recently? Share it! New teachers: Your profession depends on new ideas, enthusiasm, and fresh perspective! Experienced teachers: Your profession relies on you sharing your experience, confidence, and tried-and-true strategies for success in the classroom. Sometimes I see teachers online who seem to have perfect classrooms, DIY everything, and manage to blog, vlog, and still have a life. Just because I am not there, does not mean I should not share what solutions I have found to my problems, new stories, new strategies, or a new take on something old that I have created. Share your gifts!

3. Ask for help.

One of the most valuable resources of our schools is severely under-utilized: other teachers! I recently started a new tradition of observing how other teachers in my school teach, and it has been such a positive action for my classroom and for me. Being vulnerable can be difficult, especially for the perfectionists in the house ????, but asking the experts around us is so helpful and super accessible. Try asking your principal, building coach, or someone who has been in your building for a while, “Who in this building has some great ideas for classroom management?” or “Who in this building is awesome with reading strategies?” The experts are all around you!

4. There are others like you out there.

Speaking of the experts, we live in an age where we can form networks of communication and collaboration with people from EVERYWHERE in the world. If you are someone who feels alone at your school, find people online who teach like you or care about the same things as you, then share, communicate, and collaborate with them! I am a department of one, and it can absolutely feel like nobody understands what I am doing in my classroom, but I have found the support I need through connecting online, which has made me feel less like an island. Get out there and look! I think you will find others like you.

5. You do not have to create everything you teach.

I started my teaching career thinking that I would be creating each of my lesson plans from scratch each day—each handout, each reading, and each story. Not only is this way more work than we are paid to do, it also causes gaps in our students’ learning. If I only taught things that were my original ideas, my students’ knowledge would suffer, along with my social life. Purchasing resources from companies like Teacher’s Discovery®, borrowing lessons from friends and co-workers, using ideas straight from blogs, and supporting the work of other teachers through sites like TPT can not only add to a greater knowledge base for your students, it can save you so much time AND your sanity. Do not burn yourself out reinventing the wheel!

6. Don’t be afraid to plan around your life.

Some lessons and days of teaching are more emotionally taxing than other days. Looking at your life schedule and all of your teaching schedules together can make for a happier teacher. I purposefully plan less emotionally taxing days on conference nights, after the end of the grading period, and coming back from having a substitute. Perhaps you teach multiple preps. I try to allow for some balance. When one of my classes is a more intensive teaching day with a lot of teacher talking time, I plan some less intensive time for my other classes. Students can tell when we are tired, crabby, or have just had too much going on. Taking care of yourself by using some creative planning when you can is a great way to make sure you are at your best for your students and end the school day happy and sane.

7. Failing is not an option—it’s REQUIRED!

This is a lesson we teach our students, but somehow it does not sink in for us as teachers. I hate when lessons bomb or things do not go as smoothly as I expect them to, but having a lesson fail means I took a chance and tried something. The information I take in after is useful for moving forward, growing, and improving my skills in teaching. If I am not failing, I am probably not taking any risk.

Teacher Tip: Keep yourself organized with planners made for teachers, by teachers.