25 Tips for Teachers Both New and Experienced

I was asked at the beginning of the year to come up with my recommendations for new teachers. However, I think that this list is also useful as a reminder. If you do not work with tools, projects, or write comments to your students, feel free to substitute whatever applies to your classroom (materials, assignments, grades) as the principle is the same.

  1. Do not feel pressured to come up with the biggest and best projects. More does not always mean more learning and in my experience it can often mean less (or at least it is spread more thinly). You might think that your budget is huge but if you are not careful, you will find yourself halfway through the year without any money left.
    • You have two directions you can take a project:
      1. A big project that involves everyone - This can be cost effective (sometimes) but can also be a nightmare keeping everyone busy. There are ways to plan a project so everyone has something to do. However, it is most likely going to result in not every student learning the same thing.
      2. A bunch of smaller projects that groups or individuals are responsible for. - This could ensures that every student will learn what you are expecting but can cost a lot ($5/student is still about $250 for the project)
    • In my opinion the best projects find the balance between these two poles.
  2. Never create a project/assignment that isn't strong in content. You do not want to be halfway into a project and realize that you spent most of that time without much learning. 
    • The students and my favorite projects have been those which required the content to complete the project as opposed to simply a short design phase in the beginning and much of the time spent building or making.
  3. Purchase quality tools so you do not have to repurchase, then label and be diligent about checking them in and out. Especially around exhibition times, If you are bombarded with requests from students or other teachers to borrow your materials, it is always ok to say no or come back later when you can properly check out equipment.
  4. Feel free to ask for donations for materials, expertise, etc. Your parents and community will amaze you with what they can provide. However, if you are going to do it often or for a large amount make sure you consult your director/principal.
  5. I really appreciate these workbenches and how they help organize tools and materials in class. They can be made for any size and even be configured as shelfs. They are cheap and quick to build. Link to more technology I recommend to make life easier in the classroom.
  6. Sign up to undergo a project tuning (resource website) either officially or with another colleague. Even just casual conversations with others will generate new ideas and refine your project into something amazing. Do not believe that asking for help or feedback is a sign of weakness. We don't want our students to feel that way and neither should we.
  7. Create a system for clean up and spend the last 5-10 minutes of every class doing so. I have a rotating schedule of tasks with a student supervisor that works really well (link)
  8. Plan your entire year out. While that sound daunting, with exhibitions and projects, you do not want to run out of time. I would take the year schedule and make at least a block schedule of what concepts you would want to work with the students on and then you can fill it in more later. You will be grateful later for any planning you do in advance.
  9. Never assume that to do a project, you must "dumb down" or do not teach for depth of understanding. Always make sure your students understand what they are working on.
  10. It is ok to give homework, lecture, and test. We seek to be innovative but that does not mean that anything is forbidden when it is the best way of sharing/practicing/assessing skills and knowledge. Reflect upon how you were taught and how you can refine and improve that. 
  11. Ask for help from anyone and everyone, you will always find someone who will support you. It may feel like you are alone as you get swamped and busy but I can not say enough about how much you will grow to treasure and value your colleagues. Take a walk around the campus, walk into another teacher's classroom and be refreshed and inspired! If you do not feel like you are able to connect with your colleagues at school, connect with inspiring and sharing educators on Edutopia, Twitter, and other blogs. The Internet means no one is ever alone.
  12.  Work closely with your team teacher and members of your department. If you are able to create a cross curricular connection then all the better. The humanities and sciences have been separated in the classroom for far too long.
  13. If you have the chance to connect with students through a club, advisory, or otherwise; take advantage of it in every way possible. You have no idea how powerful an impact you can make on a student's life just by being interested.
  14. Start your final comments/grades early! The longer you put it off the less of a quality job you will do. I find that if you start early enough, divide the work by the number of days it is much easier. I would rather do a half-hour a day than 6 hours straight.
  15. Challenge your stronger students and support those who need it. The best way to do this is to keep an open dialog between you and your students to get their input as to what they need.
  16. Keep a class website and update it regularly so your Director/Principal and Parents can be well informed and support you.
  17. Imagine your students going to a well respected University. What do you want them to know? What would you like their Professors to say about your them? I love to go into Universities and see what great things they are doing, then I bring it back to my students so they can get a head start.
  18. Consider starting an after school program. You will not regret it.
  19. The Internet will fail, the computers might take a while to start up, and the printer/copier will jam/run out of paper/have a long line so always plan for that. With the copier/printer I always try and print everything out the day before so I am not stuck in the line 20 minutes before class.
  20. Take care of yourself. It is very easy to get overwhelmed and burned out so plan to take a break or a night off as often as you need to.
  21. Always keep a notepad or something where you can write down project ideas because they will come to you on a trip, at the museum, with friends, and at 2 AM.
  22. Phil's Law of Planning: However long you think a project will take, multiply that by 2 and then add a week. The only way to minimize this effect is with careful structured planning. Make clear your expectations to the students and give them clear steps on how they can achieve them.
  23. Have specific and high standards for their work. If they do not meet these standards, do not give up and move on, give them time to reflect and refine until they are proud of it.
  24. Allow yourself to fail. It is OK if your first project (or 20th) does not go well or is a total disaster. Reflect, refine, and move on.
  25. Most importantly, take time to get to know your students well. Teaching can either be a joy or miserable it is all in your daily perspective. I encourage you to enjoy every minute of it and remember what is most important.

If you have an additional tip that I didn't get to, would like clarification on one of them, or a resource mentioned, leave a comment, tweet, email, or Facebook and if you found it useful, share it on Digg, FB, or give it to a colleague who needs it.