Five years of elementary teaching experience have taught me many of the foundational principles to effective teaching. However, knowing what the principles are and applying them effectively are two different things. Hence, I offer as goals for myself and other teachers my list of ABC’s.
A—is for Attention. All students need to be giving you their attention when receiving instruction or directions. If you don’t have your students’ attention, you will waste class time repeating yourself. It’s a balancing act. The student must be disciplined to choose to be interested: the teacher must work to be interesting.
B—is for Behaviour. Expect much. Find your students maximum potential and keep the bar high. My mother always tells me, “What you allow, you have to put up with.” Have a plan in place for dealing with misbehaviour. Compliment good behaviour.
C—is for Corrections. Fixing our own mistakes is a life skill. Forcing students to fix their mistakes helps them to learn from those mistakes and causes them to work harder for accuracy. (Staying current with your daily work checking is imperative.)
D—is for Directions. Give clear, definite, concise directions—once! Repeat with student interaction if the list was long or if a student has an immediate question that needs clarifying. Allow your students to ask questions in the minute after the directions are given. Then move on. If students learn that they can ask you for directions when they feel like listening. They will become lazy listeners.
E—is for Explore. Keep learning yourself. Use student-inspired moments to lead an exploration of discovery.
A butterfly cocoon enthralled us one morning as a monarch emerged. We tried feeding the monarch fruit from our lunch and learned that over-ripe watermelon was the delicacy of choice.
F—is for Friends. Have friends who are teachers with whom you discuss frustrations, funny moments, and questions. Have friends who are NOT teachers, people with whom you can do hobbies and discuss other life issues.
G—is for God. Keep Him first. Looking back over the five years, my first year sticks out as the year that I had the least support from co-workers and the best devotional life. Keeping God first gave me an extra portion of His wisdom. This is something I would like to regain. I know that I have not kept Him priority as I should and yet His grace, love and wisdom have been faithfully available to me. Thank-you, Jesus!
H—is for Honesty. Be direct and honest about negative situations in your class. You will face things that are bigger than you and beyond your control. Giving honest reports to co-teachers, parents and board members as applicable enables a whole network of support. They will cover your back—if they know you need it.
I—is for Interruptions: Expect interruptions. Be ready to cheerfully accommodate loss of class time, phone calls from parents when least expected, or sick kids puking in the middle of an exciting math lesson learning greater than/ less than symbols with Gabby and Leo the goldfish. (The last interruption happened to me this spring. Lest you feel too sorry for me, he managed to get to the toilet and take care of the matter in a cleanly way.)
J—is for Joy. Be joyful and positive. I have only begun to unleash the power of joy this year. Giving smiles; sincere, earned compliments; encouragement; and directions worded positively sets an atmosphere where children are emotionally healthy and ready to learn. Something as simple as a firm “You may walk” instead of a harried “Stop running in the halls” can make a huge difference.
K—is for Killed. Sometime the word “died” is going to come into your room. Be sure yourself of what you believe about life, death, and eternity. Ask God for wisdom and He will direct you in giving you answers to the hard questions.
An uncle to a few of my first students committed suicide. As the children were packing up for the day in the cloakroom, I heard my children discussing something. “They say he killed himself.” Nervous snickers. “Is it true?” Innocent blue eyes looked at me. I nodded. “Why?” Just a few days before in devotions, we had discussed how we are Jesus’ lambs. As long as we stay within His fold and obey Him, we are safe and happy. I told my students, “Remember how we are Jesus’ lambs?” They nodded all ears. “Well, sometimes people choose to go outside God’s fold. It’s scary out there, and sometimes it’s so bad that they don’t want to live anymore.” I don’t remember what was said, but they left sober and secure. Only God would have known in August when I borrowed a book of devotions about animals from a dear lady at church that I would read about sheep just in time.
L—is for love and laughter. Make sure both abound in your classroom. Sometimes love will be a warm hug, other times a hand of iron, but always love seeks another’s good above our own gain as a teacher. Don’t give hugs to fill your own emotional cup. Don’t discipline to make yourself look like the perfect teacher with all her ducks—a-hem—students in a row. Love them for them.
Take opportunities to laugh with your students. Sometimes this is humbling, like when Miss Yolanda was writing recess games on the chalkboard during lunch and confused the chalk in one hand and the baby carrot in the other. I have had times in my teaching career when I barely laughed. At the same time, I had sleepless nights and a merry-ground of worry. Although lack of laughter wasn’t the only factor in my stress, it played a part.
M—is for Money. It Is Not Important! I mean yes, you do need money to trade for life necessities like food, clothes and books. But it is NOT IMPORTANT! As a teacher at a patron-run Christian school, I don’t do it for the pay check. I do it, because I love my job. I love my students, and I love my God. I know that some of you work with the public system and have much more sizeable paychecks and benefits. (And still your union is asking for more. I won’t blame you as a teacher, as I know unions move ahead without unanimous support from each individual teacher.)
I will say this. I was a student in the public system for two years of high school. I saw more self-centered, unhappy teachers there than I ever did in ten years of private school where my teachers were not getting paid as well.
N—is for NO—a word that every effective teacher must tell herself. “No, I can’t go to every social function that I want to attend.” “No, I can’t plan a fun day, write my Christmas program, and do report cards on Saturday.” Learning to say “No” allows your “Yes’s” to grow. Anyone who knows me understands that this in one of my bigger struggles.
O—is for opportunity. Be deliberate in taking opportunities Use spare class time to do flashcards with students. Take time to listen to your students as an opportunity to show them how to communicate. Go to teacher’s training when you have the chance.
P—is for Plan. Always have a plan for how something will be done and convey this plan with confidence to your students. If there are parts of your plan that may not go as planned, warn your students and prepare a Plan B. Just do it. Make it a mental plan. Make it a sticky note. Do whatever you need. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Q—is for Quiz and Test. Before you start your year, know where your marks are coming from. Take grades routinely. Assess the assessments. Did all of your students do poorly in one section? Re-teach and re-test. Is one student consistently getting poor grades in a subject? Try to figure out what skill they are missing and target it, one-on-one if necessary.
R—is for Rewards. Make rewards attainable to everyone. Privileges make better rewards than things. Only give rewards when they are earned or they lose their power as motivators.
S—is for sleep. It’s not over-rated. (Confessions of a Night-hawk: I will shortly leave writing this over-due blog post for my bed and come back to it later.) I know I function better with more sleep and so do my students.
T—is for Temper. Much is gained by keeping your cool. Much is lost when you lose your temper. I naturally have a temper, but God has been helping me in this one. I still have to watch it.
One time, I had a little guy who had intentionally done the wrong thing. I opened my mouth to give him a sound reprimand when I saw a glint in his eye. I shut my mouth and realized that if I did scold him, he would win. I calmly asked him to do the correct thing, and the glint left his eye.
U—is for Unite. As a teacher, you are joining one of the best teams you will ever join. Do all you can to make the team work. For me, this has included washing someone else’s dishes, listening to co-teachers vent and forgiving a co-teacher who unknowingly made fun of something I developed with my whole heart.
V—is for Value. Place value in what you do. You have your finger on the pulse of the future. Be deliberate in giving your students the best of yourself.
W—is for Weep. You are going to get emotionally exhausted—sometimes beyond feeling. I have been so stressed that I could no longer feel. But there is great relief in feeling. Laugh hysterically if you need to, cry loud if you need to, but whatever you do, don’t lock your exhaustion inside you.
X—is for Hugs. (applicable to lower elementary only) If your students want hugs, give hugs, even if you are not the touchy-feely type. Your students may need that touch just to confirm that they are worth something.
Y—is for You. Take care of you. (I can hear my co-teachers chuckling at this one.) Read, take walks, laugh with friends, play in the snow, scare your little brother or whatever you need to do to rejuvenate. Eat healthy, sleep lots, and—above all things—walk alone with God. “Take time to be holy.”
Z—is for Zigzag. Have your routines but dare to break them occasionally. Read story outside, write your spelling words in marker, do art on Wednesday instead of Friday. Zig-zagging can also be mixing the subjects. I sing in phonics and math class. I use math facts in music class. We do art in science, and it’s fun.
*Did I miss something? Leave your contributions in the comments below whether you are a first year or fiftieth year.