Skills you need to teach your students

In this day of teaching, there is so much pressure on teachers to get their students ready for “the test” that we often forget the essential skills that our students really need.  The reality is that most of the subject specific content that we teach our students will be lost within the first five years of them graduating high school.  There are far more vital and valuable skills that we need to be teaching our students than the subject specific skills that we feel are so important. The following is a list of valuable life skills that we, as teachers, need to be teaching our students.



Listening is the most important skill we can teach our students.  It is a skill that everyone is capable of developing.  Communication requires two things.  A message has to be sent and the message also has to be received.  If students don’t listen then the message will not be received.  There is a saying that “the only requirement for listening is to be present” and if the students are present then they can learn to listen.  The first thing the students need to understand is there is a big difference between hearing and listening.  Students often hear your voice, but aren’t listening to what you are saying.  Developing listening skills will enhance the student’s learning and will be vital in developing the other skills they need to be successful.  Everyone knows the importance of listening but the question is how you teach listening.  One thing to emphasis to students is the importance to have eye contact with whoever is speaking.  Your ears are were your eyes are and there is a reason God gave you two ears and one mouth.  You need to listen twice as much as you talk.  Also, asking questions to non-volunteer students will keep students’ attention and will test whether they are listening or hearing.  If the students don’t have the skill of listening, they will not be able to learn other skills.  For strategies for developing listening skills visit 5 Strategies for Teaching Listening Skills and Whole Body Listening Skills

Following directions

Follow directions

Listening and following directions are often two skills that are combined.  Part of following directions is having the skill to comprehend and remember the directions that are given.  I have read about the Rule of 3 and I try to implement it in my class as well as with my own children at home.  The Rule of 3 says that people can only process 3 directions at a time.  For example, tell your students to “get a pencil, piece of paper, and open your book to page 17”.  In teaching math you would say “identify the question, set up the problem, and solve it”.  Coaches often use the Rule of 3, especially with young players.  When teaching a player to shoot a basketball you first teach them “eyes on the rim, toes to the rim, and ball placement”.  After they learn that, you advance to three more things such as “elbow in, hand behind the ball, and follow through”.  For more information of the Rule of 3 visit Using the Rule of 3

Be reliable


If you look at the top skills that employers want out of their employees, reliable and responsible are always toward the top.  Teaching a student to be reliable can be very difficult to do, but there are some things that you can emphasis that may help you.  First, hold your students accountable to deadlines.  For example, if the bell rings and a student is late to class you need to count them tardy and follow your schools policy on tardiness.  Also, if you have a set day when an assignment is due hold the students to that date.  If they turn in late work then there must be a penalty in missing the deadline, just as there is a penalty for missing an assignment date when they get a job.  If you can help them become a more reliable person then you will enhance their chance of getting and maintaining a job.

Be willing to learn

willing to learn

The biggest aspect of trying to develop the willingness to learn in students is to help them realize they don’t know near what they think they know.  It is a desire that most students have in elementary school, but it tends to fade as students progress through school.  We need to identify when that desire fades and try to address the problem before it becomes a habit.  Students need to know their weaknesses as a student and try to improve on those weaknesses.  In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know so you need to help them understand how to have a desire to be a continual learner.  It’s a delicate line but teachers need to encourage students to push themselves to keep learning and never be content.  The day that they don’t have the desire to get better is the day they stop learning.  Most jobs that don’t require a degree will teach you the skills you will need, but you have to have the willingness to learn those skills.

Problem solving


The top desired skill of a vast majority of employers is the ability to solve problems.  A student that can “think outside the box” and solve problems with critical thinking is more efficient and more valuable than someone that isn’t.  It speaks to the idea that it is better to have “street smarts” than “book smarts”.  The biggest obstacle for teachers is teaching the students to think instead of just regurgitating information.  Teaching problem solving in math is part of the curriculum, but it can be challenging in other subjects.  One technique to improve problem solving skills is to encourage alternative ideas on how to solve questions.  Often times the best problem solvers are the stubborn people.  It’s difficult for a teacher or parent not to say “because I said so”, but when we say that it tends to hinder students’ critical thinking skills that are vital to their growth as a student and a person.  Let them share their ideas even if you feel it is wrong.  It may lead to ideas from other students and you may learn something as well.  For more ways to teach problem solving skills to your students visit the following links.

Teaching Methods for Problem Solving

Teaching Problem Solving Skills

Work in groups

working in groups

Ability grouping is one of the most effective and efficient way of improving individual student academic achievement, but it also serves as an important way to teach communication skills.  The debate comes with how to group by ability.  Is it better to group lower students with upper students or group them as lower students and upper students?  I would argue that both techniques need to be used.  Every student needs to be able to work and communicate with a variety of personalities and groups of people.  Every profession requires the ability to work with a group of people in order to accomplish certain goals whether it be in a factory, business, or another work place.  The employee that can work better in groups are the ones that tend to get promoted quicker.  In this age of ever evolving technology the ability to communicate has steadily declined.  Therefore, helping your students develop their communication skills will help them work more efficiently in groups and become more valuable in the work place.

Definition of success


There is a huge misconception with students about the definition of success.  First, students feel that success is directly related to grades.  While I would agree that students that have earned high grades usually have the abilities to be successful, it is not the sole factor in whether a person is successful.  Secondly, students feel that success is tied to how much money you make and your possessions.  I believe every teacher would agree that money doesn’t equal success.  The problem is convincing your students that money doesn’t equal success and finding ways to teach them how to be successful.  Success is accomplishing the goals that you have set for yourself.  If you can teach your students to set challenging, but realistic goals and how to reach those goals they will become successful.  To learn how successful people define success follow the following link.

9 Successful People Defining Success

The Golden Rule – Treat others the way you want to be treated

golden rule

The Golden Rule should be the first thing we try to teach our children and our students.  It is the foundation of how to teach a child proper behavior.  Teaching someone how to be a good person is often times more important than teaching them how to be a good student.  If students understand how to treat others it will help them communicate more effectively, become patient, and be more respectful and thoughtful of other people’s opinions and ideas.  Teaching the Golden Rule can be challenging, but one way to encourage any rule is to acknowledge it when someone displays it correctly.  If a student is not displaying a desired behavior it may be best to talk to that student to help them understand why what they did was wrong.  Treating others with kindness and being considerate of their thoughts and feelings will be very helpful to students in every aspect of their lives.

How to be a leader


I feel coaches often make a mistake in trying to find the leader of their team.  We should be trying to teach everybody how to be a leader.  As a coach, I don’t want to depend on one person to lead, I would want to have multiple people that I can count on as being leaders.  A majority of students are eventual going to be parents so they are all going to be put in a leadership position.  We, as teachers, need to explain and model to our students the characteristics of an effective leader.  Effective leaders are masters at communicating and are able to motivate others in order to accomplish a common goal.  Teachers can teach these skills through designating a leader when they do group work.  The leader is responsible for communicating the assignment to the other group members and keep everyone focused on the task.  There are different effective ways to lead, but the end result is always a reflection of the leader.  Make a rubric that highlights the leadership qualities that you, as the teacher, want to emphasize and give the leader immediate feedback on how they did.  The following is a link to an example of a grading rubric to evaluate leadership skills.

Leader Quality Rubric

If we are to teach our students these skills it is essential that we model these skills.  If we model the inability to listen to our students, we are constantly late to class, unorganized, or unable to follow directions our students will not have an example to go by.  We are visual people and students need to see a visual representation of these skills in use and teachers are one of the role models students are looking at.  We have been told in education that more is learned through observations and hands-on experiences than verbal explanation.  The same applies when teaching these skills.

Teachers are difference makers

Teachers are the most vital part of our society.  Before any successful person became successful they had a teacher that helped them along the way.  There are numerous stories of how successful people attribute a former school teacher with helping them realize their abilities and then help them achieve their goals.  Former President of the United States Bill Clinton recognizes his high school band director for taking a vested interested in him in and out of school to help him grow as an individual.  Oprah Winfrey recalls her fourth grade teacher helping her believe in herself and getting her to enjoy learning.  Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, (although he did dropout of Harvard) acknowledges that he wouldn’t be where he is today without his former math and drama teachers.  Even the success stories of small business owners have a teacher that either helped them along the way or taught them the skills they needed to be successful.

Teachers can impact generations of people and effect communities around the world in a variety of ways.  So many students are looking for someone to tell them that they are important and that someone believes in them.  That is the part where teachers fill the gap.  In most cases, when a child gets to school age, teachers see the children more than the parents do.  That means teachers have a great responsibility and a great opportunity to make a positive influence in children’s lives.  As a group, teachers have the opportunity to change the cycle of a family.  For example, there are many examples of children that are stuck in generational poverty and looking for a way to get out.  That is a tremendous opportunity for a teacher to make a difference in a child’s life and help them change the cycle of poverty in their family.  As a result, that child will continue the cycle with their children and the whole generation of a family has changed a cycle of poverty into a cycle of stability.  The same can happen to families with cycles of alcoholism, child abuse, divorce, teenage pregnancy, and other generational issues.  If teachers help enough students change the negative cycles in their families, they can help change the negative cycles in a community.

No other profession offers the opportunity to interact with the future work force every day and help mold them into productive and responsible employees.  Teachers have the power to enhance a community’s work force and as a result attract more jobs to the community.  In other words, teachers have a significant role in the employment rate in their communities.  If schools produce quality workers then more businesses will move to the area which will result in more job opportunities.  There are not many jobs were people are given the opportunity to make such a big difference in lives of people in their community.  Most students have teachers in their lives for over 12 consecutive years, so while parents have a vital role in their children’s lives, those children’s teachers become difference makers in each of their lives.




Dos and Don’ts of Teaching

I don’t want to come off as a “better than you are” teacher.  I know those type of teachers and I really try not to be one.  I just came up with a short list of things that I have learned and been told about teaching that I feel can be helpful to all teachers.  Please read these lists and offer more dos and don’ts at the bottom of the page.

Dos of Teaching  

  • Remember that you are there for the students
  • Keep learning how to be a more effective teacher
  • Be prepared for each day
  • Be open to new ideas
  • Understand that students have changed over the last 10 years
  • Communicate with parents regularly
  • Believe everyone can learn
  • Treat students with respect even if they don’t treat you with respect
  • Understand that every student doesn’t learn the same way or at the same pace
  • Let them see that you care
  • Understand that you have a choice on how you approach each day
  • Get to know your students
  • Do the best you can

Don’ts of Teaching

  • Blame the students for everything
  • Blame yourself for everything
  • Say “When I was in school …”
  • Be stubborn to change or advice
  • Give up on a student even if it looks like they don’t care
  • Complain without solutions
  • Forget why you teach
  • Let the students affect how you act
  • Talk down to students (nothing good comes from it)
  • Stress over standardized tests (easy to say but hard to do)
  • Try to be the “cool” teacher (you have to be yourself)
  • Treat all the students the same (before you disagree give me time to explain)
    • I learned from coaching that you coach every player, but you can’t treat every player the same.  You should expect more out of your better players.  In the classroom, you should teach every student, but expect more out of your better students.

Student Motivation

Now that the 2015-2016 school year is coming to a close and educators are developing last minute reviews and testing guidance for students prior to summative testing, it is essential to focus on the motivation behind student performance and goal setting. As much as this time could be used to venting about state mandates and test reliability, especially when there have been apparent flaws in the validity of testing this year, let’s turn our focus on the relationship between student, teacher, and the assessment. I firmly believe that the success in education comes from the trust established in the classroom. Co-authors, Anthony S. Bryk and Barbara Schneider wrote a book entitled: Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement, in this text the central focus of trust comes from the motivations of the principals and teachers and showing in our actions that our motivations are true to bettering schools, teachers, and most importantly the students.

At the beginning of the year, multiple conversations are held in my classroom for the sole purpose of developing this relational trust.  During these conversations, I stress to the students not to let grades be the focus or motivation for academic excellence, but to strive to set their own individual goals for accountability.  The goals come from the student after taking survey tests at the beginning of the year that focus on core reading, writing, and analytical skills.  The students’ set goals are then compared to the state’s projection for proficiency and a majority of the time the student’s goal is higher than the state’s projection. Goals are monitored through the year for remediation and/or enrichment. These goals are more important than the letter grade because they hold the student to a true and tangible standard.

Some students will be motivated by grades whether the motivation comes from themselves, college admissions, or their parents and there is nothing wrong with this, but in general curriculum classes, these examples of motivation might not be as tangible as advanced placement courses. Therefore, teachers must find other forms of motivation through establishing trust and developing the students to set their own levels of success.  The downfall of letting grades be the only motivation is the uncertainty based on the event that the student realizes the flaws in the testing and/or the test will not count for or against them.  If grades have been the only motivation, then what if there is no grade tied into the end-of-the-year assessment. Students lose motivation.

If the student has established their own goal of accountability and the teacher has proven to the student that the teacher’s true motivation is to guide the student to that goal then the teacher has developed relational trust. Weeks prior to the end-of-course, I stress to the student that they study for themselves rather than a state mandate, grades, or even for me as their teacher. When the student goes back home, it will be within themselves to find the reaso and true motivation to open the book or study guide.

Always adapting,

Joe Collier

Transparency? How can I be more Transparent?

One of my favorite educational buzz words these days is transparency. Merriam-Websters defines “Transparent: able to be seen through.” I often hear the questions How can we be more transparent as a district, school, or even in our classrooms.

The world we live in today offers more options than ever before Transparency all around us. At almost any given time we know what our favorite actor, musician, or athlete is doing with social media. I often I ask myself just how much information is too much. I have a background in business and marketing, and I understand for you to promote your business you have to sell your product. Just like a business you need to sell your product which is education. You need to let your parents and community members know what is going on in the world of teaching.

For years, many teachers have thought of their classroom as their domain and rarely let anyone in on the daily classroom grind. Traditionally parents would find out about their child’s success or failures through attending parent-teacher conferences, have classwork sent home, or by reading the student’s report card. Parent’s want to know what is going on in their children’s lives; this is not to say they are helicopter parents merely they have a vested interest in their children’s education.

As an educator, you do not have to share everything that happens in your class. I assure you if you share the right information you will build a better relationship with your parents and the local community. Below I will share with you some ways to become more transparent.

If you teach young children or if you are a school or district I highly recommend having a Facebook page. I help curate our school’s Facebook page, and we have roughly 30,000 impressions on a given week. Facebook is possibly the best way to get the excellent news of your school out to the public.

Facebook is an easy choice for most teachers wanting to get in on the ground floor of transparency. The social media giant makes it easy for you to set up an individual page for your classroom. Early in my teaching career, I created a Facebook page called Mr.Dunn’s class. Through this form of media, I shared when tests would be, and other quality news. Quickly Facebook became not cool among high shool students, mainly because their parents and grandparents were on this form of social media.


Twitter is my favorite form of social media. A colleague of mine referred to Twitter as a quick conversation you have as you pass someone in a store or walking down the hall. I love this analogy because he is correct. If you want just to give short updates or send a link to something you would like your audience to see then Twitter is a great way for you.

I have used Twitter in my class; you can find me @dunnhistory, with Twitter I would use it as a tool for a short message, historical pictures or links I wanted to share with my followers or my students.

Remind has quickly become one of the most used apps as educators today. With remind you may have parents or students to sign up for your Remind text messages. Texting has become like second nature in the digital age we live in; even my grandparents attempt to text. I like Remind mainly because, you have people who do not or choose not to have access to social media, but they have a cell phone. Text reminders have been the most efficient way I am transparent with my students, and their parents.


On any given day over 250 billion email messages are sent out. Granted, most of them are spam messages. So why would you try to move away from this form? Since the inception of email, it still is the most common way we can communicate with people. How many times have you heard it is in your email? Or have your checked your email? If you are interested in haveing a weekly or monthly mailer, you can. You do not have to be a coder or a web designer for you to use email marketing programs. Companies like MailChimp, Benchmark email, and Vertical Response all have free versions so you can create a mailing list.

School website

The majority of school districts have a website, and each teacher has an assigned web page. My district like most has designated a site to me. On your selected site you may choose to use it as a form of communication of class only things. I use mine as a one-stop shop for all things Mr. Dunn’s class. I have links to study guides notes and other items about my class. I do recommend if you have created content for your course use this platform so your students and parents will have convenient access.

Blog or personal website

If you are not in a district that allows you to have individual sites, I would strongly recommend a blog. Most teachers I am familiar with have some blog whether it be for your class or your personal accounts. Currently, you are reading my blog. Educators have used this process to share the weekly happenings of their class. They can share stories from students as well as pictures of the events from the class.

You can use different types of blogging platforms for your needs the two most popular are Blogger and WordPress. I have used both formats, but I tend to lean more towards WordPress. If you live in the world of Google, you might want to experiment with Blogger first. My first blog was on blogger, but the look and feel of my blog were not what I wanted my audience to experience. I moved to WordPress earlier this year, and I am pleased with the ease and beauty of WordPress.

Class Dojo

Last but not least is Class Dojo. Class Dojo is my favorite application/website for being transparent for elementary aged students. Class Dojo is a very robust platform. On signing up, students may make their avatar it will appear in the class designated by you the teacher. You may communicate the behavior of the student to the parent from this app. Not only can you express student actions you also have access to sending direct messages to the parent, group messages to all the parents, and you may share photos in the class feed. If I were in the elementary setting, I would use this app on a daily basis.
If you are looking for becoming more transparent with your district, school or classroom explore! Play around with all these or other forms of communication. Do not be afraid to learn what might be out there. Remember just a small seed can grow into an enormous tree. Cultivate your students learning.

10 Tips for Old(er) Teachers

As I was typing my last post, I realized that us old(er) teachers also need some tips.  Too often we get stuck in our old ways of teaching and some of the old ways just don’t work anymore.  Students nowadays learn differently than students 10 years ago.   The following is a list of 10 tips for us old(er) teachers:

1.) Smarter person doesn’t mean better teacher

Over the years I have heard sports analysts say that their is a misconception that if you are a great player then you will be a good coach.  Often times that misconception is true.  If you look at any major college or professional sports team it’s the average players that make the best coaches.  I feel the same applies to  the teaching profession.  I have known a lot of smart people that are just not good teachers.  Their content knowledge is superior, but they are unable to relate the content to the students they are teaching.  We, as teachers, have to realize that most students don’t love our subject as much as we do.  Also, if my students’ case, they have 6 more classes that they have to go to and the teacher is expecting the same thing.  Most teachers reply by saying “We did it when I was in school.” (we will get to that later).

2.) Don’t forget why you chose teaching as a profession

There are days where I have to  try to remind myself why I got into this crazy profession.  I know it wasn’t the money, snow days and holidays off is a perk but it’s not the reason I got into the teaching profession.  I chose teaching because I love helping kids and I enjoy seeing them learn things that they never thought they could.  I feel like most teachers, at some point in the career, lose sight of why they started teaching and focus too much wasted energy on other things that just distract us from doing what we need to do to help our students.  If we can help remind each other that we got into teaching for the kids then it will make us more effective teachers and help toward a better working environment.

3.) Listen to the young teachers, they have good ideas

I’m not sure why, but for some reason I have kept most of my papers from college.  One day I looked back at them and wondered “Where did I come up with that? That’s a good idea.”  I came out of college with grand ideas of how I would teach a certain topic, how I would use groups to help students, and new innovative ways to make teaching and learning fun.  Then I started teaching and I don’t know what happened.  We, as older teachers, need to realize that these younger teachers have some great ideas and have a lot to contribute if we allow them to.  Too often we think seniority rules and the young kids don’t know what they are talking about, but most of the time they have a valuable insight on how to teach our students.

4.) Don’t be an Energy Vampire

The term Energy Vampire comes from the Jon Gordon book “The Energy Bus” which I highly recommend.  It is basically somebody that sucks all of the energy out of a room.  I have students that are Energy Vampires, but there are also a lot of teachers that can be Energy Vampires as well.  It is something I feel we have to be really conscious of and make a concerted effort to try to be “energy givers” instead of “energy takers”.  It goes back to the saying that “misery loves company”.  It is very discouraging to hear an older teacher  be so negative toward a newer teacher.  We can’t inspire other teachers or students  to be better if we are constantly being negative about things.

5.) Limit the times you say “When I was in school …”

As a student, I always hated when teachers started a sentence by saying “When I was in school..”.  I always wanted to stop them and say “but we are not in your school we actually have indoor plumbing and get to ride a motorized vehicle to school.”  The fact is we are not in school and things have changed, even if you are a new teacher.  I realize that there are a lot of things about education twenty years ago that worked, but there are also some things about education that has gotten better.  I have been called an “old school” teacher (which I took as a complement), but it’s a waste of time for me to compare today’s world to the world 20 years ago when I was in school.  Most of the students aren’t interested in hearing about when we were in school and it often times comes off as us just mindless complaining.  The bottom line is the world has changed since we were in school and in order to successfully prepare our students we have to adjust to the times.

6.) Teach the students, don’t just cover the material

In today’s time of high stakes state testing teachers are under a lot of pressure to deliver good test scores.  As a result, we tend to get in the mode of “covering” the standards instead of teaching our students.  In order for teaching to take place the students have to be learning.  “Covering” and teaching are two totally different things.  Covering involves you talking about it and teaching involves the students learning it.  I would rather them learn  80% of the standards than “cover” 100% of the standards.

7.) Get to know your students outside of school

Students often think of teachers as this authoritative figure that is always trying to get them in trouble.  Sometimes I wonder if they even think we are normal.  I have found that when I see my students in public and recognize them as someone other than a student in a seat, they recognize me as someone other than their teacher.  I have many examples of current students and past students that I have seen in public and had conversations about non-school subjects.  Whether it be at the county fair, the local Walmart, or at a restaurant say something to your students when you see them in public.  I think it will go a long way toward building a good relationship which will translate to a better experience for both of you and possibly a discount at your favorite restaurant for you.

8.) Observe other teachers

Observations are always a part of a new teacher’s first year and, in my opinion, should be a requirement of every other teacher as well.  I know our time is limited and most teachers spend time outside of school hours preparing for their lessons, but we can learn a lot from each other if we are willing to put in the time.   Most teachers in our math department collaborate with each other and it is very helpful, but I have found that actually going into the classroom and observing what they are doing is more effective than them telling you what they do.  I would also advise going to observe teachers outside your grade level and subject level to come up with more effective ideas for your classroom.  Where ever you teach their are probably good teachers, young and old.  Find who they are and learn from them.

9.) Be open to change

Change is probably the one toughest thing for some old teachers, but it has been the one constant in education for the last 20 years.  I know it’s hard to let go of those lesson plans from the last 10 years that have worked so well, but with the pace that education is changing we must adapt to the new changes.  Also, technology has changed tremendously and will continue to change each year.  This is where our younger teachers could be very useful.  We are living in an ever changing world where technology is everywhere and if we are not using technology in our teaching we are doing our students a disservice.  Change is inevitable in education.

10.) Be a positive role model for the younger teachers

I had a older man tell me that you spend the first 1/3 of your life acquiring knowledge, the second 1/3 of you life applying that knowledge, and the last 1/3 of your life sharing that knowledge.  I am currently in the middle of the second 1/3 of my teaching career and I have started to think more of how I can help some of the younger teachers in our department.  When helping younger teachers, I think the first thing that older teachers need to do is reassure them that they are not alone.  Teachers are often thrown in a room and told to go teach tomorrow’s future and the younger teachers are overwhelmed and end up not having a positive experience.  We need to make it a point to provide encouragement to our younger teachers, share our knowledge in a constructiuve way, and be a positive role model for them to follow.


If you any extra tips for older teachers please comment.

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.