10 Tips for New Teachers

It’s been more than a few years since my first day of school as a teacher but I do remember being more than a little nervous and a lot overwhelmed.  I was put in a class in the upstairs corner of the gymnasium and told to go teach math to tomorrow’s future.  I rarely talked to any other teacher, much less another math teacher.  I learned a lot that year and have learned a lot more since.  Now, when we get a new teacher I try to remember all the things that I wish people would have told me before my first day.  I feel that most new teachers need to learn some things on their own, but I do try to give them some tips as they go through their first year.

1.) Smart person doesn’t equal good teacher

This tip applies to the new teacher as well as other teachers.  All teachers need to have the desire to learn more, but especially new teachers.  Content knowledge is very important, but knowing how to teach the content is more important.  Don’t assume the best teachers are the smartest ones.  I have found often times the smartest teachers aren’t the best teachers.  Sometimes the smartest teachers have difficulty explaining the content in a way that students understand.  The best teachers are the ones that can relate to their students and teach the content in a way that every student can be successful.

2.) Be a continual learner

It won’t take a new teacher long to figure out that education is a constantly changing profession.  In order to keep up with the change, you have to be a continual learner and constantly try to find better ways to teach your students.  That includes observing teachers, reading educational books, going to workshops, searching the internet for different sources, or just sitting down with another respected educator and picking their brain.  You will probably find out early that while your education courses in college were helpful they aren’t always applicable.  You will have to learn a lot of things on your own, but if you want to be the most effective teacher you have to constantly try to find ways to become better at your craft.

3.) Surround yourself with positive and supportive people

The first thing that new teachers need to learn is that you can’t do this job alone.  Like the good book says “It takes a whole village to raise a child “.  You will encounter some negative people that want to bring you down to their level to make themselves feel better, but you have to do your best to stay away from or ignore those people.  Ideally, the support system are the teachers and administrators next to you but that isn’t always the case.  Teaching is a stressful career so find a good support system at school and away from school that you can rely on for help and advise.

4.) Keep reminding yourself why you became a teacher

When you decided that you wanted to make education your profession you made a commitment to help children reach their goals.  You didn’t get into education wanting to make a lot of money or have the summers and holidays off, you did it because you enjoy helping children and you feel you can make a difference in your student’s lives.  The problem comes when teachers forget that.  When you forget why you chose your profession it turns into a job instead of a career and when you feel like it is a job, it’s time to find something else to do.

5.) You are going to make a difference in all of your students’ lives, try to make it a positive one

I heard a motivational speaker say “As a teacher, you are a role model whether you want to be one, so do your best to be a positive one”.  He had coached high school basketball for over 20 years and had a few NBA players play for him, but he said the ones that come back to him and say “thank you” are his students not his players.  They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care and when you let them see that you care about them as an individual and not just a student in a seat, they will run through a brick wall for you.  So many of our students nowadays are looking for a positive adult figure in their lives and that can be you if you allow yourself to be.    If you teach for 30 years you will probably have taught over 3000 students.  That is a tremendous opportunity to help not just those students, but those students families for generations.

6.) Observe teachers outside your subject/grade level

Most school systems require their new teachers to have observation hour.  Most teachers choose to observe other teachers that are in their grade level or subject area.  I think that is a good place to start, but I would challenge you to go to other teachers outside you subject area or grade level and try to learn from them as well.  While content knowledge is obviously vital, you teach students not a subject and the same teaching techniques that work for 3rd graders will probably work for 6th graders too.  In high school, most students have the same classes together so go observe how certain teachers keep their students engaged or handle classroom management and go apply it to your classroom.  Be a sponge and soak up all of the knowledge you can.  You won’t be able to do it all, but pick the ones you feel fit your teaching style, tweak it a little, and make it yours.

7.) Expect to be more than a school teacher

All those college classes you took are very helpful, but they can’t prepare you for a lot of what teaching is about.  As a teacher, you will be asked to wear  many hats.  You will be part motivational speaker, part guidance counsellor, part psychologist, part parental figure, part disciplinarian, part baby sitter, and occasionally part school teacher.  I have always said we should be getting paid for doing five jobs.  If teaching is all we had to do there would be a lot more people becoming school teachers.  It is much more than just standing in front of a class and talking about math and science.  All of the hats that you wear are a part of being a true teacher to your students not just a school teacher.  It is a big responsibility, but it has great rewards.

8.) Most students care about their grades

Contrary to popular belief among some of the older and bitter teachers, most students do care about their grades.  Now, a lot of them don’t care enough and that’s where my students and I have a disagreement.  If a child attempts a test, there is a part of them that cares how they do on that test.  There will be days where certain students will act like they don’t care, but if you find out more about your students there could be a valid reason why.  I have only had  two students out of the over a thousand that I feel has truly not cared about their grades and both were involved in drugs which obviously was a factor.  Most students are concerned about their grades and want to graduate, but sometimes you have to push them to care a little more.

9.) Don’t hesitate to offer new ideas to older teachers

All of you new teachers, especially the ones straight out of college, are full of great ideas.  The hard part is getting someone to listen to your great ideas.  How you offer the idea is as important as the idea you offer.  If you come off as a “know it all” rookie then your idea will be tossed before you can finish your first sentence.  Sometimes, even if you have a great idea and present it in a positive way with the best intentions you will still be shot down, but don’t let that stop you from sharing your ideas.  Often times it just takes one other teacher to listen to your idea for it to be heard.  You can learn a lot from the older teachers, but they can also learn a lot from you.

10.) Don’t believe everything you hear

Schools are one of the worst places for gossip and social media hasn’t helped.  I made a rule for myself to never completely believe something I didn’t personally see or hear.  Last week, when I had a substitute teacher, there was a fight in my 4th period class.  When I got back to school I heard 12 different stories on what happened and 3 different stories from my 4th period students that were in the room when it happened.  I always take what teachers and students say with a grain of salt because half of it is probably not true.  When you get your class rosters you will have some teachers that want to tell you all about the students you are about to have.  Understand that they are trying to help, but don’t believe everything they say .  Go into the year with a clean slate for everybody and don’t have any preconceived thoughts about any student.  Some students respond to certain teachers better than others.


If you have more tips for new teachers please share them



The No Complaining Rule

I have recently become a big fan of Jon Gordon (No not Jeff Gordon).  He is a best selling author, speaker, and works with a lot of businesses, sports teams, and schools to help cultivate a positive atmosphere.  He is a great source for information for any educator at any level.  I just finished his book “The No Complaining Rule”.  The whole time I  was reading it I thought about how we could use this at our school.  The basic concept of “The No Complaining Rule” is if you have a complaint you better offer two or three potential solutions.  Jon describes it as “mindless complaining” compared to “justified complaining”.  Mindless complaining focuses on problems when justified complaining focuses on solutions.  It reminds me of a coach that told me “don’t tell me what the problem is, tell me how your going to fix it.”  The book also introduces a technique called the “But Rule”.  My kids at home laughed when I told them we were implementing the “But Rule” at home.  It is a simple technique that you use when you realize you are about to complain about something you say “but” and add something positive.  When I read it I immediately thought about school.  We, as teachers, constantly complain about students being lazy, the administration not doing their job, the cafeteria food not being good, or some other “mindless complaining”.  If we could implement the “But Rule”  we would create a better learning and working environment.  For example, when you hear yourself complaining about how much you don’t get paid or how hard a day you have had say “but at least I have a job.”  One of my biggest faults as a teacher is I probably tend to focus too much on the lower students and what they are not doing when I need to focus and recognize the students that are doing what I ask them to do and trying their best.  I am going to implement the “But Rule” in my classes to help me adjust my focus.  Everytime I hear myself complain about what some students are not doing I’m going to say “but” and find something positive that the other students are doing.  I am going to enlist my fellow math teachers to help me with it and maybe it will rub off on them and it could be a department initiative.  Maybe eventually it could grow into something that we can implement as a school.  If you have any further ideas or suggestions please reply with a comment.

Teach Students Not a Subject

I am from a family of teachers.  My mom was an elementary teacher, my dad was a middle school teacher, and my two brothers are high school teachers.  When I decided that I wanted to be a teacher too, I had to make a decision on what level of education I want to teach.  I had a professor tell me “If you enjoy children you should be an elementary teacher and if you enjoy a subject, you should be a high school teacher.”  I was confused because I had family members at every level of education and I know we all enjoy helping children.  I am currently in my 16th year of teaching high school math, and the more I think about what that professor said, the more I realize what the problem is with education.  Too many teachers get caught up in teaching their subject instead of teaching their students.  I have been guilty of it, and I know it is a constant struggle for most teachers.   Part of the problem is the constant pressure that is put on teachers about their standardized tests scores.  Teachers feel they have to “cover” the standards in their subject to get their students ready for “the test” and we tend to lose sight of “teaching” the students. I have to constantly remind myself that I am not teaching math I am teaching children.  The best advise I ever got was “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” and if we can focus on teaching the students everything else will take care of itself.  We will see test scores rise, school morale will increase, classroom behavior will improve, teacher-student relationships will improve, and the school will be a better teaching and learning environment for everyone.

Edcamp can come to your school too!

I am an avid user of Twitter for my PLN, and I adore the connections I have made by using this form of social media. I have been on Twitter since its inception, but until three years ago I never used it as a tool to better formulate my teaching. I began hearing about Edcamps/unconferences in various twitter chats, and it sparked my interest. Unfortunately, there were not any that were close, or I could not get free on a Saturday to participate. This spring I told myself I was going to go to my first Edcamp. When Samantha Bates moderator of #tnedchat formed Edcamp MidTenn. I was ready to go to my first.

I was so excited; I was going to my first Edcamp, and I was not sure what to expect.  Fearful of going alone I took my brother in law who teaches with me to Tullahoma, Tennessee where the event was.  I left amazed at what I had learned. This information had to be brought back to my executive principal because my thoughts were we could do this at our school. He watched videos on what an Edcamp was he assured me this is something he had been wondering about he just did not know the format in which the PD could be in.

Currently, we are scheduled to have our Edcamp Style PD planned for June the 8th I have sent out a Google form so the fellow teachers may submit if they would like to facilitate or just show up. (a link will be at the bottom of the post) I sent this out because only two of us in our building have been to an Edcamp, so I wanted the fellow faculty members to understand the concept before the day of the event. There have been many well thought up responses for this, and I am excited to see how the day will turn out. I will keep everyone posted on our progress as it develops.

Here is the Google form I sent out.



Wonderful One! Larry Bell

At the beginning of the summer, teachers look down at their professional development list. I like most wondered what benefit I would have from the training that I will receive. This summer I had the privilege to meet Larry Bell. Larry is a thirty year plus veteran teacher. Larry still educates children, but not in the classroom. Larry has taken his talents of teaching to the teachers and empowered teachers to strive for the success of every student. One of my favorite quotes Larry said during the training was “On your worst day on the job, you are still some child’s best hope.” Larry emphasized the importance of making connections with your students as well as his “12 Powerful Words” and UNRA(A)VEL. More about these later. I have always been a person who understands how connecting with your students makes a huge difference. I love how he uses his “7,3,1” method during class time, seven times during class praise your students, three times during class brag on your students and one time during class NEVER accept their excuses but do it lovingly. Larry made a lasting effect on me; his message was assuring I was still doing it right by my children.

Larry Bell and his “12 Powerful Words” are exactly what it says. These twelve words are words can be found on state test questions or ACT/SAT questions. Your students might have heard these before, but they may have not totally understood the meaning. Question? How many times have you given a test question to a student and they not answer it correctly, but if you tell them what the question is wanting they can answer you every time. By training a student with these words, they will have a better understanding of what the question is asking. This strategy will help the student perform on the test better. Some of these words are: evaluate, infer, analyze, compare, contrast, etc… These words may feel like they are simple to understand although teachers are college educated and have heard and used these words a few times in their years. Our students are not, with some of their backgrounds we are happy they are just making it to school. The “12 Powerful Words” help even the playing field for our students on testing questions.

Larry Also unraveled to us UNRA(A)VEL a reading and writing strategy for students. By using the acronym, students can look at the passage and understand the writers point he/she is trying to get across. With more of our testing “common core” centered it is important that the student understands how to pull the information out of the text and answer the questions given.

This year my school has bought into the “12 Powerful words” and UNRA(A)VEL. We hope these strategies will help our students perform better on their state mandated tests, and also help them as they continue their education. I am very thankful of my school district to bring Mr. Larry Bell to us this summer. He was such an inspiration to myself and other colleagues. Larry is scheduled also to spend some time with us this fall, which I can not wait for it again.

More information about Larry Bell and his passion towards students you can find them at
http://www.larry-bell.com Also, if you would like to know more from my perspective you can contact me via twitter @jacobdunn

Twitter, a PLC?

Most people in the education world have now heard of the acronym PLC. PLC stands for Professional Learning Community, and its design is to help teachers collaborate with other teachers who teach the same grade level or the same subject. This is a magnificent way for teachers to share ideas and teaching strategies with other teachers to better their teachings. We have started PLC’s in our school district this year and I do enjoy them. My fellow social studies teachers can talk about what goes well in our class and see what is going well in theirs. This is a great way to have ideas bounced off different people to see if they have tried a certain teaching style or not

You probably know about Twitter but they really don’t know what it is or how it is used. Twitter is considered a micro-blogging site where you are given 140 characters to let your “followers” know what you are doing. Some people still use it to inform about their day to day lives but others have chose to use Twitter as a content creation/consumption media. Twitter has turned into the ultimate news source for many people including myself. I use this as my primary news source, because people are breaking news as it happens instead of waiting for a newscast. It can also be used for information I love how people share blogs and other information about their trade or interests.

How can Twitter be used as a PLC? With Twitter you can get tons of information about education, and what is going on in education. So how do you get this info? You need to sign up, then at the top of the screen click on “who to follow”. Since this is an EDtech blog, I would suggest you follow someone in the education field. Just type in Education in the search and you will find quite a few to follow such as @usnewseducation or @ED_outreach. To have a PLC, you will need people for ideas, feedback and support. Some of the people I follow are @perrywiseman, @dianeravitch, or @teachpaperless. These people, I have found very valuable to my online PLC by the information they share, and there is a wealth of it. If you want to expand your knowledge about any subject, I would suggest you use Twitter and “follow” on.