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Ten Pieces of Advice for Rookie Teachers
From the Marshall Memo #437
(Originally titled “The Don’ts and Don’ts of Teaching”)
In this Educational Leadership article, New York City high-school teacher Gary Rubinstein lists the mistakes he wishes he’d been warned not to make in his rookie year:
• Don’t try to teach too much in a day. Teachers are exhorted to have high expectations, and there’s always the fear of running out of activities. “But the risks of over-packing a class period are too high,” says Rubinstein. “Better to split a lesson originally planned for one day into a two-day affair.”
• Don’t teach a lesson without a student activity. “When a lesson has no activity, students get restless and tune out,” he says. When planning, think up the activity first, and get to it as soon as possible in the lesson.
• Don’t send kids to the office. “When you send kids out, it soon becomes the only thing they’ll respond to,” says Rubinstein. Work to improve instruction and discipline in the classroom.
• Don’t allow students to shout out answers. What may feel like a lively discussion is really a few kids speaking up and the others tuning out because they’re not aggressive enough to get their ideas heard. Expert teachers pose thought-provoking questions and call on students who raise their hands – or cold-call.
• Don’t make tests too hard. This leads students to perform poorly and conclude that you haven’t taught the material well, neither of which is helpful.
• Don’t be indecisive. This conveys uncertainty and weakness to students. Rubinstein advises giving clear, firm answers to students’ questions within three seconds. If you get it wrong, reverse it the next day: “I thought that, now I think this. Let’s move on.”
• Don’t tell a student you’re calling home. “Calling home is one of the best things you can do to respond to student misbehavior, but it must always be a surprise,” says Rubinstein. Advance warning can lead students to escalate to show they don’t care, gives them a chance to get to the parent first, and can make you look weak if for some reason you are unable to reach the parent.
• Don’t try to be a buddy. “I suggest you mark on the calendar a random day, some day in February, to be the first time you carefully cross the buddy line for a short visit before turning back,” says Rubinstein.
• Don’t dress too casually. “If you look like a teacher, they will treat you like a teacher,” he says.
• Don’t babble. It’s a sign of nervousness. “The more words you say, the less value each word has,” says Rubinstein. “Choose your words carefully.”