Advice For High School Teachers

Five tips to help high school teachers get their school year off to a positive, realistic start.

Teaching is a challenging profession. Teaching at the secondary level presents its own challenges. Schools are not the same as they were when you were a teenager, although there are still similarities. Also, there is a large gap between observing how a teacher conducts class and actually being that teacher. There is quite a bit that happens behind the scenes! If you can remember these five tips, your transition into the teaching profession will be a smooth one.

Tip Number One: Discipline Before Content

You will hear many teachers say things to students such as, "You should have learned that in Kindergarten," or "Didn't your mother teach you any manners?" Yes, the political correctness of such statements is questionable, but burnt-out teachers make statements like this frequently. The reason is that they have not taught their students their classroom expectations.

Before you ever begin to seriously teach math, English, social studies or whatever content area you specialize in, you must teach your students your behavioral expectations and classroom procedures. You teach these expectations and procedures the same way as any other lesson. Let the students participate in a discussion, practice the classroom procedures, and even take a quiz on them! Better yet, let the students make the quiz themselves. Within two weeks, every student in your class should know how they are expected to enter the room, the consequences for tardiness, talking out of turn, disrespect and so on. If you don't teach them classroom procedures, they will test limits until they learn them the hard way, taking away valuable time from your brilliant lesson plan on plant mitosis.

Tip Number Two: High-Stakes Testing-Don't Worry, Be Only a Little Concerned

High stakes testing has become a huge concern for many teachers, especially those who are new to the field. Teachers are sometimes being told that they will be evaluated based on their students' test scores. Scary, isn't it? The reality is that each school is made up of a specific demographic that typically performs the same on the test across the board. Your students are just as likely to perform well (or poorly) on the test as the students across the hallway. Teachers spend far too much time worrying about this issue. Yes, the person who teaches the honor students will have a higher percentage of passing scores, but that is to be expected, isn't it? Regardless of what they may say, your administrators know this.

Kids are being tested quite often these days. There is a danger that eventually they may begin not to take it seriously. One way to ensure that students do not goof off during high stakes testing is to reward them for improving this year's score over last year's score. Don't teach to the test. As long as you are teaching engaging lessons, and have classroom discipline under control, your students are learning.

Tip Number Three: Getting Support From the Administration

The climate at each campus varies. Some school administrators are very supportive of teachers, while others are overwhelmed, incompetent or even play favorites. Of course, it is best to learn about the climate of the school before you accept a position at it, but this is not always possible.

Get to know the administrators, and help them out whenever possible. Don't be the teacher who sends referrals for gum chewing in class. Implement your own consequences to deal with minor issues. Only utilize administrative support when you absolutely need it, as most administrators have more work than they can possibly complete each day. When you do need to write an office referral on a student, make certain that you have documented previous attempts to solve the problem, if it has been an ongoing issue. Even if it is a one-time serious occurrence, make sure that you have documented the incident very precisely. Chances are, the administrator dealing the incident is not going to contact you for your input regarding consequences. So, be very specific.

If you use referrals sparingly, and generally manage your classroom well, the administration will usually be there to help and support you when you really need it.

Tip Number Four: Get Support From Other Teachers

Support from other teachers is essential. If you have a teacher next door who can take one of your students when the student is unable to participate appropriately in a discussion, then that is one less referral that you have to write, or one less class discussion lost to the antics of a hyperactive student.

Perhaps you have a dental appointment, and need to leave fifteen minutes early. One of the teachers on your team who has her conference period at that time can cover your class for those few minutes.

Maybe you have just had "one of those days" when everything has seemed to go wrong with your lesson plan, and the students were behaving poorly. A shoulder to lean on is valuable at a time like this. It is always helpful to know that you are not alone.

Of course, to get support, you have to give it. Often, you need to initiate it. If you hear a fellow teacher saying that she simply doesn't know what she'll do if Marcus "acts up" in her class one more time, tell her to send him over to your classroom where you'll have a packet of work waiting for him at the desk in the back of your room. Cover other teacher's classes when asked, as long as it is reasonable. Do small things like remembering team members' birthdays, and the payoff will be big.

Tip Number Five: Take In-Services With a Grain of Salt

Some campuses take their in-services very seriously. Others just ask you to sign your name to a sheet of paper and then go to your classroom to do paperwork. The in-services that can drive teachers crazy are the district-level ones, where often large-scale changes are announced. Take a deep breath. Usually, it is a case of "the more things change, the more things stay the same." You may spend eight hours hearing about the importance of high-stakes testing, or how the instructional programming for the entire district is going to change. If you look around you, you will find that the teachers who have been with the district for 15-20 years are pretty unperturbed. They know that they will have to make some changes, but they will not throw out everything that has worked for them so far in their careers and adopt an entirely new strategy based on one in-service day. They know that next year, there will be new ideas to try, and old ones to discard. You want to do what the district asks you to do, but in a sensible way. Don't discard what you know works; instead, integrate the new material into your existing schema.

Utilize these tips, and continue to add new ones to your teacher's toolbox on a regular basis. Subscribe to professional publications, and keep up with current educational research. Soon, you'll be an expert, and best of all, you'll have figured out what works best for your personality type, content area and the students whom you serve.

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