Five Things All Teachers Must Do

Originally posted on Open Salon on June 12, 2011:

When it comes to educating our children, all stakeholders need to remind themselves once in a while of things they must do in order to ensure success.  In this post, I share five things that I have learned from my colleagues over the course of my career as a teacher.  This list is not all inclusive, nor should it be known by teachers alone.  Anyone who understands these reminders will have a richer appreciation for the hard work that good teachers do.

1.  Teachers must model professionalism for each other and for their students, no matter who is or is not watching.  Teaching is a profession.  Teachers should speak, act, and dress like professionals.  If a few teachers carry on conversations while a workshop is going on, some of the mature majority should admonish them.  If younger teachers still act as if they are still in college, the veterans need to bring them up to date.  When an inappropriate topic comes up in discussion in the faculty room, a disapproving look and a change of subject helps maintain the proper tone for everyone.  No one needs to judge or act superior; they merely have to assert themselves in the name of professionalism.  It isn’t convenient, and it may not feel good, but it is necessary. 

2.  Teachers must insist that students pay attention and participate.  This ought to go without saying, but today’s culture has made it increasingly difficult for students to take a meaningful interest in instruction and classroom activities.  Less experienced teachers will be tempted to compromise their standards or give up the effort.  Neither is acceptable.  Some dedicated and determined teachers struggle every day for years on end to capture the imagination of their students.  That is the nature of teaching today.  Success may be elusive, but surrender is not acceptable.

3.  Teachers must work toward uniform expectations of all students.  If all teachers insisted collectively on an orderly arrival and departure for class, on the appropriate tone of voice when speaking to others, and on promptness and quality for all written work, it would be easier for each individual teacher to get students to comply, learn, and achieve.

4.  Teachers must communicate expectations early, consistently, and clearly to students and parents.  By all means, teachers may post rules on their bulletin boards, but they must also explain that there are principles behind the rules, and that students must live up not only to the letter of the expectations but also to their spirit.  This should pervade all classroom activity.  Written assignments should have rubrics to cover everything from neatness to accuracy to punctuality.  Teachers should communicate with parents by phone and email throughout the year, whether the parents respond or not.  All of this does make a difference, and yes, it is exhausting—about half as exhausting as trying to carry on without doing any of it.

5.  Teachers must be prepared to go home miserable about 18 times per school year.  Some parents get angry when their honor-roll students get C-plusses.  Others feel guilty about their inadequacy as parents, and are looking to project their failures onto someone else.  Most, however, are responsible, mature, caring people who are bound to have a misunderstanding with some teacher or other from time to time.  If 90 percent of a teacher’s days can be arduous; the remaining 10 percent will threaten to break his or her spirit.  Colleagues should be on hand for each other when the going gets rough.  This is all part of the job.

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Remembering these at all times is hard.  Living up to them is harder.  Better teachers than I struggle in that endeavor, but they also inspire us all with their vision of what they know is possible.

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