Tips for Teachers, from Teachers

Today’s back-to-school tips courtesy of Jill Fonda, teacher at The Beacon School:

While I’m by no means a veteran teacher (this will only be my fourth
year), I’m happy to share some of my thoughts for the high school teachers
out there:

—Smile.  A lot of teachers will be super-strict the first few months of
school to ensure that students don’t take advantage, but personally, I’ve
always found that warmth and kindness go a long way in garnering student
respect and forging meaningful relationships.

—Leave first-day procedures for the second day (or even third!) if you
can, and do something fun and student-centered instead.  It’ll get the
kids talking about your class with their peers and their parents, and
they’ll be ready to take on the syllabus and the information index cards
with a bit more zeal.  This year, I’m going to try the Oreo Challenge on
our first day back: the students will have to determine if double-stuffed
Oreos are really double-stuffed.  There’s an added bonus in that I’ll be
able to assess my students’ lab skills without giving a scary diagnostic

—Only make policies you’re willing to enforce from September through
June.  In my opinion, there are few things more undermining than
inconsistency.  Sure, some kids may test you at first (“I wasn’t texting;
I was just checking the time”), but when they realize you’re not going to
back down, they’ll acquiesce or find themselves suffering the consequences
you warned them about from the beginning.

—Yelling is also on my list of things to avoid.  Stay in control of
yourself, and you’ll stay in control of your class.

—Keep a notepad and pen with you at all times.  Write down everything
you’ll need to remember (latenesses, exemplary behavior,
less-than-exemplary behavior) and do something about each item after
class.  Email parents, notify the attendance office, pull a student aside
later that day—whatever it takes.  I also write down student questions to
which I don’t have an answer, and I post the questions on my class website
for students to research for extra credit!

—Be a model student yourself.  Come to class on time and well-prepared,
and follow your own rules about electronic devices, gum, hats, etc.  I
imagine few things are more satisfying for a student than pointing out
hypocrisy (it’s a teenage thing), so don’t give anyone that opportunity.
Of course, if you do mess up—and you probably will at some
point—apologize and try again.  Be generous with second chances for the
kids, too.

—Lastly, never forget how strange your job is.  For an hour a day, your
life intersects with the lives of thirty teenagers who have no choice but
to sit in your classroom and do what you say.  Why not make those minutes
meaningful and fun?  Share your passion for your subject—and for
life—and recognize how humbling it is to be able to do so!  I really do
believe we have the best job out there.

See the complete series of teacher tips here.

For more teacher resources all year long, visit Teachers TryScience.