Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Let's Talk Tuesday: Ways to be a Successful Teacher



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I've wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl. I remember "playing school" every afternoon, using my stuffed animals to be my students. I even got the bright idea one day to write the spelling words for the week on my closet door - with a permanent marker. That didn't go over too well with my parents. Those words stayed there from 3rd grade until we moved out of that house when I was in 8th grade - my apologies to the people who moved in after us.

Fast forward 20 years (whoa, that makes me feel old) - I've been teaching six years total, currently in 4th grade, and if I'm being honest, it's not always rainbows and butterflies like I had imagined. As a little girl, I pictured my teachers as these wonderful people who came to school, read us books, wore the cutest teacher vests (which I thought was so cool), taught us our spelling words, always smiling because they were so happy, and then they went home. Easy, right? Negative.

Now, don't get me wrong, teachers are wonderful people, and there are so many rewarding things about our job - but it's definitely not as easy and glamorous as I had imagined. I guess that's the same for any job really - what you thought about it as a child is very different than how you see it as an adult; as are many other things, right? - oh to be a child again. Although teaching can be a very hard job, and there is a lot more to it than you probably thought, I have learned some things over the years when it comes to being a successful teacher that definitely help to make the job a little easier and more enjoyable.

I am by no means an expert, but I have found that these four things help me keep my sanity, and help to develop relationships with my students, which in turn helps those test scores that everyone freaks out about. If you're a teacher, then you know what I'm talking about. It's hard not to focus on that, trust me, I get it - but if you can focus on doing these 4 things, and doing them well, I think you'll see that teaching really can be all rainbows and butterflies like you had once imagined. So let's talk about 4 ways to be a successful teacher -

1. Stay positive.
There will be times when you want to complain about anything and everything - from grading papers, to testing, to the pay. There will be times when your co workers do nothing but complain and you will want to join them. There will be times when you only want to say negative things about your students. Don't fall into that trap. When it gets hard, remember why you became a teacher in the first place. Hopefully it was to educate, influence, and impact the lives of children. If you can hold on to that, every day, then staying positive will come natural.

2. Get your classroom management under control.
This is by far the most important thing you can do. If you don't have control of your classroom, you can't teach - bottom line. In my opinion, you need two things for good classroom management: structure and respect. Students thrive on structure. They need consistency, and they need expectations. How high those expectations are is up to you. I also am a firm believer in respecting others if you expect respect from them. My students know I respect their thoughts, opinions, ideas and voice; in return, they respect mine. It's amazing how smoothly a classroom will run when structure and respect are present.

3. Focus on the whole child.
The Whole Child Approach was first brought to my attention when I was attending the ASCD Conference in Atlanta with a few colleagues of mine. It was a great reminder that as educators, we shouldn't focus just on grades and test scores. Yes, those things are important; but the child is more important. I know that there is so much pressure put on teachers these days in regards to testing, but at the end of the day - is that why you started teaching? My guess is no. Throughout the years, I have learned to stop putting so much emphasis on the test, and to focus more on the children in my classroom - as individuals. I focus on what their needs are - and not just their academic needs. My assistant principal recently emailed this out to our staff and I think it is very fitting to The Whole Child Approach - "Never allow what you teach to take priority over who you teach." Amen!

4. Realize that there is always room to grow and that change is OK.
A lot of teachers get stuck in their old ways and have no desire to change or improve anything. For some reason, teachers think that they should be able to do things the way they've always been done and expect everything to stay the same year to year. I don't know of any other job where this is the case. All jobs have changes. My husband's company has changed the way they do things a number of times, as I'm sure many other jobs do. Why should it be any different for us as teachers? The standards should change, the tests should change, the way you teach lessons should change - why? Because change challenges you and leads to improvement. I'm not saying all changes are good, but how will you know if you don't try? I don't care if you've been teaching 1 year, 10 years, or 20. You always have room to grow. There is always something new to learn and new to try in order to be the best teacher for your students.

PS. Happy Teacher Appreciation week to all you awesome educators out there!!
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