Sunday, March 01, 2015

Half Century

I turned 50 years old a month ago today. Probably like most people who get here, I'm still a little dazed that this number is associated with me.
I'm the young whippersnapper. I'm not the old geezer. My friend jokingly got me this shirt: 

I think it was jokingly. But I'll go with it.

I've also been teaching a long time; this is my 18th year. So in celebration (or reflection) of all this, I am challenging myself to list "50 things I've learned about teaching" ... notes from an old geezer / village elder wannabe.

(in no particular order other than what popped into my brain and when)

And also, obviously, these are just things that are "true" because of MY experiences and the schools I have taught in. Mileage may vary for you.

1. Enjoy the students. They're pretty amusing.

2. Try to separate the behavior from the kid/adult. I'm still working on this all the time (after I grumble and curse and have a pity party about what's been "done to me").

3. It really IS true that they will remember how you made them feel other than what you taught them.

4. If a kid is sleeping in my class. It's more effective to say, "___, wake up. I'm sorry you are tired, but I need you to be here." versus
    "$(&*($  ____ you will NOT sleep in my class!!!!" (though sometimes the second one feels better in the short term ... so I act it out in my head)

5. Just because they are staring at you while you are talking, it doesn't mean they are processing what you are saying. (I wonder what the % breakdown is ... or maybe I don't want to know.)

6. Every day is a fresh start and a fresh chance to do it right. (and to screw up in other ways)

7. Keep reflecting on what and how you are doing things. Never settle.

8. It's fun to learn new things along with the students. (and I am always "joyful" in my multitude of mistakes I make ....)

9. When I show my excitement about a topic, it adds to the lesson.

10. Even if I "learn something" about teaching one year ... that doesn't mean I remember it or put it into action consistently.

11. Just because other teachers seem to be successful doing things one way, it doesn't mean that EXACT thing will work with my students.

12. Even if I think something is obvious as a teaching practice, it doesn't mean it's obvious or even useful to others.

13. Share share share and borrow borrow borrow and adapt adapt adapt.

14. I teach students not subjects. 

15. I need to keep teaching learning skills along with topics.

16. I need to keep acknowledging to the students that learning is hard, and they should be proud of their effort.

17. Keep a large binder for each subject. Put copies in sheet protectors. Put the keys in there. Do it chronologically. Make sticky notes about changes for the following year.

18. For anything out of the ordinary in my daily schedule, make a google email reminder to help you not forget.

19. Humor humor humor is a nice wheel greaser.

20. Just because you taught it to them last year AWESOMELY, it doesn't mean they remember it instantly this year. Review, scaffold, and acknowledge that it's human. (and secretly be shocked that they don't know how to do fractions. Still.)

21. Teachers of non-math topics are also a source of great material to adapt to math teaching.

22. For big projects, I have found more success with having many stepping stone grades to ensure completion.

23. For big projects, I make a "contract" that has stepping stone due dates and a place for peer checking first and then my grading.

24. Gallery walks are great because the students get to see others' work and they also get to show off their work to more than just me.

25. I have been extremely fortunate in the schools I've taught in and the people I have taught with and the kids I interact with.

26. Even if something "bad" has happened to me in teaching/life in the past, it's great fodder for "stories" to share with the kids.

27. I try to do the big projects along with my students. That keeps me honest in what's involved, and I think I get more buy in from the kids.

28. I don't let students talk poorly about other teachers/students in my class. I try to gauge the situation to see if they can constructively resolve things.

29. People have to eat and go to the bathroom. I have rules that work for me and don't seem too jail-like, and then mostly everyone is happy.

30. Just because students are silent, it doesn't mean they are not participating.

31. There needs to be quiet thinking time, and students need to be reminded of it, as in, "okay, to yourself, figure this out, to yourself" .... "silently" ... "alone".

32. This has worked for me: "okay, now turn to someone and either give them the deer in the headlights look, or nod your understanding of what I just said". "discuss".

33. It's okay not to have lunch with other teachers and to just be in my room doing my thing in the middle of the day without being "on".

34. It's really helpful to have things to look forward to during the week. (hello Spanish lessons and breakfasts out each week)

35. I need to try out new ideas immediately, or else they usually don't get tried out after a conference.

36. For all my answer keys, I highlight the edges on both sides of the paper, so it's easy to find and identify as the key.

37. Answer banks are awesome. I mix up their placement, but it gives kids immediate feedback on their work.

38. Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. (thank you, basketball coach, math teacher from another school)

39. Hurt people hurt people. Kindness rules. 

40. Make eye contact with ALL students as much as possible. It's too easy to only engage with the students that are always the contributors. I don't want anyone to feel invisible. I still need to remind myself of this when I am staring at the back of the room when I'm talking and trying to keep straight what I'm saying.

41. I like to exercise in the morning because I know then it will get done. It doesn't hurt that I'm a morning person. Mwa ha ha.

42. My clothing choices are fascinating. Apparently. New clothes? New comments!

43. I need to have good reasons for what I am teaching and why I am teaching something the way I am.

44. "When am I ever going to use this?" responses: you may not use this, but this is how it is important ..... or, you never know what you will do when you grow up, so it's nice to have options.

45. You are apparently never too old for stickers.

46. Every class has their own personality, and what works great with one may not work with another. (what's WRONG with them?????)

47. It takes me about 3 passes through to "perfect" a lesson so that it's actually effective in the way I want.

48. People Before Paper. I need to not multitask when a student is talking to me and give them my full attention.

49. My attitude affects the class. If I'm cranky and tired (which happens), I let the kids know, hopefully in a joking way, and I try to get over it.

50. Sheesh, what a wind bag .... bla bla bla .... okay, LAST ONE ... digging deep .... wise words ... stalling .... Every school has its own challenges, and parts of the grass may actually be greener elsewhere, but other parts are covered in fire ants.

Okay, look for the sequel to this in 10 years .... "60 things I've learned and maybe remember about teaching mixed in with a list of my aches and pains".


  1. Happy belated birthday!! What a great list of things for all of us to remember in the classroom.

    1. Anonymous5:59 PM

      Thanks, Meg! I had a fun birthday and still keep repeating "50" "50" "50!" over and over to myself.

  2. I love #3 and so strongly agree. I wish for #17- maybe some day. and you are a major source for my # 13 thanks
    and happy birthday

    1. Anonymous10:55 AM

      Thanks, Trish! ... and I am a HUGE borrower and adapter, too.

  3. I love #3 and so strongly agree. I wish for #17- maybe some day. and you are a major source for my # 13 thanks
    and happy birthday

  4. Happy birthday. Welcome to the second century of your life.

  5. Anonymous10:55 AM

    Thanks, PO ..... looking forward to what comes next.

  6. Thanks for this post.

    As a first-year teacher, it's always nice to hear tricks of the trade. It's nice to hear some affirming words to relate to on this roller coaster that is the first year.

    Happy belated birthday!

    1. Anonymous9:18 PM

      Thanks, Morgan. Hope you have all the fun and challenges that come with teaching.

  7. Anonymous1:53 AM

    Thank you so much for this! Absolutely brilliant. A great reminder for teachers new to the profession or like me (23 years in and still going!!!) Will print this out and have it near my desk. Particularly love "People not paper" !

    1. Anonymous9:06 AM

      23 years! Impressive and something for me to strive for, but I guess it just sneaks up on you, right? Thanks for your kind words.

  8. These are great!

  9. Leanna10:04 PM

    Congratulations on the milestone!
    Thank you for sharing the things you have learned. As a college student studying to become a math teacher, it is really encouraging to learn from others' experiences, and helpful as well!

  10. Wow! What a great post! Being a student who is trying to get her degree in education, I really enjoyed this list! Congrats on 18 years; eighteen years is a verrryyyyy long time! I cannot wait until the day I able to have a list of what I've learned! I agree completely with numbers 22 and 23. Those are a must in motivation for big final projects. My philosophy of teaching includes your number 9. I think when a teacher shows excitement about a topic, students will take to it more.