3 Things A Teaching Degree Doesn't Teach You

I'm not the best at taking unsolicited advice. We teachers are armchair quarterbacked to death and it all becomes too much. So this is not a post offering teaching advice. YOU ARE AWESOME and are quite literally changing the world. 

Over the years I have had the very lucky opportunity to work for some really great administrators. These pieces of advice came to me in times of need because I was struggling with the various parts of this multi-faceted job. Here are 3 pieces of advice that changed my teaching.

"Parents just want to know you like their kids"
Before having my daughter, I didn't quite grasp this concept. Now as a parent, I totally get it. All I want is for my daughter's teacher to like her. When this advice came to me, I was having trouble with a few parents. Looking back, I wasn't coming across as liking their kids very much, even though I did, and definitely never started any conversations with positive things.

Now as a Special Education teacher I get to put this advice to use every day. Working with kids is by far the best part of my job and now I never hesitate to say it. And it has made all the difference. 

"Call home when he has a good day"
A few years ago I had an exceptionally difficult class of juniors and seniors. One senior in particular pushed my buttons on a daily basis. He was super math-phobic and he expressed it as anger. After observing my class, my assistant principal passed this advice on to me that she had learned from one of her administrators when she was a teacher. 

A couple days later my student had a really good day so I called home and left a message. At my administrator's advice, I also emailed his liaison and all of his other teachers about his great day. 

The next day he seemed different but told me that he didn't know if his mom got my message. At the end of the year he ran over to me in the parking lot and gave me a giant, strangling bear hug. "My favorite teacher!" This was probably the most important piece of advice I have ever gotten.

"A good curriculum is the best classroom management"
Classroom management has always been my biggest weakness. I use a lot of allegory, especially related to overcoming math fears, to lower affective filters and regain math confidence. But these stories would just be story time without solid curriculum. 

This piece of advice came to me from my favorite principal when I was teaching Algebra in Boston. He believed in teaching the whole child and making school an inviting place. Many of our students came to us with the feeling that school was just something they had to do, not a gateway to a brighter future. With this came a need for me to really sell it. This is when I started picturing my most disengaged students when making activities. 

I asked myself what they would like. I knew that if I could hook these struggling learners the rest of my students would also benefit. It's through this lens I look at every activity I give to my students. 

What important pieces of teaching advice have you gotten? I'd love to read your best advice in the comments below!

Scaffolded Math and Science


Unknown said...

My first day of teaching high school was 19 years ago. I was hired as a special education teacher and taught English, math, study skills, and reading. My first class, senior English, had 20 kids. The first kiddo to enter sat quietly and watched me suspiciously. As the room filled up, he didn’t take his eyes off me. No doubt I looked excited, which I was, and terrified, which was an understatement. I was thrilled to meet my kids and start teaching. Once the bell rang, James calmed shared, “What makes you think a f&cking bitch like you is going to make a difference.”. The first words ever expressed to me in the classroom (other than good morning and hello) were heartbreaking and soul crushing. So, one of the most important things a teaching degree doesn’t teach us is that some of our students will ask for attention and love in some of the most unloveable, hateful ways. James turned out to be one of my favorite students that year.

ScaffoldedMath said...

It is so hard to think of these tough kids as needing love, nevermind the most of it! I have had tough kids who have turned out to be my favorite too (not that we have favorites, of course). What is it about these kids? Is it that they end up teaching us about the job and about ourselves? I hope you are having a great year, Teresa. Thank you so much for coming over to share your story.

Pam Richmond said...

Remember that we have an impact that we may not be aware of, and treat your interactions--both positive and negative--with that in mind. After I had been teaching for maybe 25 years, I noticed a youngish woman in my apartment complex constantly avoiding me while walking her dog. Finally, she actually came up to me and said, "I just want you to know that I never cheated again."

Though I had long forgotten the incident--and sadly, even forgotten her--that moment in the dog park still gives me chills.

Unknown said...

I've been teaching Math for two years now. My first year was quite tough and I don't think I was able to deliver the content with the right impact my learners should ever received. With many interventions, and overcrowded classroom, I can figure out that some lessons are being sacrificed. Yet I'm glad just today coz one of my students said that she love Math now because of the learning she gained last year. How I wish i could influence more learners to be liker of the subject.

Unknown said...

Build community— when they know you love them, they have an easier time trusting you when the every day tasks gets tough.

Unknown said...

Hi Theresa,

Thank you for sharing your story! I'm actually going to be teaching high school special ed (I'll have about 20 students on my caseload) and will be responsible for teaching two math classes, two reading classes, and one study skills class. Are you currently teaching high school special? If so, are you still teaching the same subjects? I would love to get some ideas from you, if you don't mind communicating with me via email or by text/cell phone. Hope to hear from you! Thanks, Debbie

ScaffoldedMath said...

Oh my! So it was a student you caught cheating? I hope that every one of my math students carries good memories of our classes with them. Thank you for the reminder that students look up to us always, even on those days that we'd rather be buried under a heap of blankets.

ScaffoldedMath said...

I am sure you are influencing more students than you realize. My first few years were especially rough-- I think everyone's first years are. I do think that students appreciate seeing us struggle to know that it is OK for them to struggle, too. You are doing great. Thank you so much for your comment.

ScaffoldedMath said...

So much yes to this Heather! Thank you so much for the reminder! I hope you have a great year!