For more years than I can possibly remember, I have written an annual column to new teachers. It’s hard to believe I have now been retired for five years. Nevertheless, I remain in close enough contact with active teachers and students that I still feel comfortable giving you advice.
· Don’t let anyone tell you not to teach. The fact that you are teaching right now tells me you have already followed your own path rather than allowing other people to convince you to follow theirs. Teaching IS difficult. The work of teachers often isn’t valued the way it once was. But if your heart tells you to teach, by all means, teach!
· You have an enormous responsibility. Every day, your students deserve your best when they walk into your classroom. They deserve your undivided attention, your knowledge, your passion for your subject area and for teaching, and your ability to make what they are learning relevant.
· Get to know your students, and let them get to know you. Go to their extracurricular activities when you can. Sing happy birthday on each student’s special day. Post news articles or other announcements that highlight their accomplishments. Call home to check on them when they are absent more than one day. Talk to them if you notice a change in personality or mood. Invite them to community events that are important to you. Let them see your true personality.
· Classroom management plays a significant role in learning. Expect, and give, respect in your classroom. Teach, and use, good manners. Please, thank you, yes (instead of yeah), and excuse me go a long way, not only in the classroom but in life. Avoid using curse words in front of your students and expect the same from them. If you spend your time writing referrals, students learn quickly you are not in control of your classroom. When you don’t have a well-managed classroom, it affects your students’ ability to learn. My first two years of retirement, I worked for an alternative certification company. As part of their course on Classroom Management, they used the book The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry and Rosemary Wong. Oh how I wish this book had been available when I started teaching. If you master the techniques taught in this book, your classroom-management game should be on point.
· There IS a line between you and your students. Stay on your side. My last few years of teaching, I was shocked to hear of teachers I knew losing their jobs because they crossed the line on social media or by texting their students. First, always make sure you are following your district’s policy as it relates to communication with students. If your district does not have a policy, act as if it does. To give you an idea how serious this is, read School District Employees and Electronic Media put out by the Texas Association of School Boards in November of 2017. Please trust me when I tell you that you do not want to risk your teacher certification and your reputation by crossing the line.
· Live by the words of Pastor Tony Evans. Years ago, I heard Pastor Tony Evans on the radio. “We should not lower our standards for our children. Instead, we should raise our children to meet the high standards we have set for them.” As I was driving, I gave an AMEN! Do you know about the Texas Truth-in-Grading Law and how it has withstood court challenges by districts determined to lower standards for their students? My advice is to ask yourself every day, what should your standards be if you truly want to prepare your students for college and the workforce?
· Call your students’ parents. At the beginning of the school year, I made a list of all of my students’ parents’ phone numbers I would have them readily available. I developed the habit of calling them not only when I needed their assistance with behavioral issues or to get their children to tutoring but also to share good news about their children. As I look back on my teaching career, I wish I had done this even more. It’s amazing what it meant to the parents and to my students.
· Ask questions. A lot of them. As I said at the beginning of this blog post, teaching is difficult. Don’t try to do it alone. Ask your colleagues, administrators, school secretaries, counselors, librarians, and anyone else on your campus for help and guidance. One day, a new teacher will be asking you.
· Get to know your colleagues on campus. You will find out quickly that your custodians, your school secretaries, the school nurse, the librarian, your cafeteria workers, and every other member of your staff plays a critical role in your success and your students’ success. Drop them a note to say thank you, bake for them, say “Good morning,” and do whatever else you can to let them know you appreciate them.
· JOIN A TEACHERS’ ASSOCIATION/UNION! I would not teach today without belonging to one. Though you may think you will never be one who is targeted by an administrator, a parent, or a student, belonging to an association/union is like having car insurance. Hopefully, you will never have a wreck, but if you do, you will be protected. You will also learn through the group you join about things like the Texas law on planning periods and on lesson plans (commonly referred to as the Paperwork Reduction Act). Belonging to an association/union will also (hopefully) motivate you to get engaged, politically. Current and retired public-education employees need to be aware of how this November’s election and the 2019 Legislative Session will affect our healthcare and our pensions. I cannot tell you enough how important it is for you to get engaged NOW!
· Invest in a 401K. Retirement may be a long way off for you, but don’t be stuck depending only on your TRS pension. While having a pension (IF you still have one---again, you better get involved in the legislative process NOW!) is nice, it is best to have supplemental income, as well. Find a local financial advisor who is well-versed on TRS to help you begin investing in a 401K now. Carlos Cantu, the migrant counselor at Brown Junior High (now Brown Middle School) in McAllen, where I started my teaching career, began hounding me to invest that first year, stressing that if I put it off, I would regret it. I finally listened to him about three years later. I should have started that first year because I would have that much more invested, but now that I am retired, I am sincerely grateful to him for continuing to hound me. What a difference those investments will make for me in the not-to-distant future!
CONGRATULATIONS on choosing to teach! Regardless of the negativity often surrounding the profession today, it remains an honorable, rewarding job. Imagine what a difference you can make in the lives of your students. Have a great year!
Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at email@example.com. (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)