Ten Pieces of Advice for Rookie Teachers

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.”

“The Don’ts and Don’ts of Teaching” by Gary Rubinstein in Educational Leadership, May 2012 (Vol. 69, #8, p. 50-52), http://bit.ly/KuVzCE; the author is at garyrubinstein@yahoo.com

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