This is my 19th year as a teacher with the Vancouver School Board. If I add up a few months working as a substitute teacher, a temporary contract and two years teaching abroad, I think I can legitimately claim that I have been teaching for 20 years.
After 20 years, what do I know? That there still is and always will be much to learn. I find that exciting and inspiring, not daunting. However, after teaching this long and still loving my job, I can say I have learned a thing or two (20 things in fact – one to honour each year) and in the September of a new school year when pencils are still sharp and excitement is in the air, I made a list. Because that’s what teachers do.
In no particular order because they are all equally important, some wisdom shared:
1. Teach the children in front of you. Not the children you think should be there. Don’t take a curriculum and impose it on a group of learners. Start with who your students are and where they are. Go from there. Take them far!
2. Relationships, relationships, relationships. Without them, good luck. With them, wow!
3. Choose celebration over cynicism. Educators can easily bemoan what is happening in education. Dwell in that place and you will be blind to the wonder and magic that happens everyday with the students in our classrooms. Feel lucky about that and take time to celebrate the daily learning, growth and joy.
4. Laugh a lot. Kids are really funny. Laugh with them and stress dissipates. For everyone.
5. Be one of many teachers in the room. Promote mentorship between your students. Children learn beautifully from each other when we set up learning environments that promote this.
6. Make curiousity as valuable, if not more valuable, than the acquisition of specific knowledge. When we spend time collecting facts, we have a finite collection. When we wonder and build on each other’s questions, there are endless possibilities. We don’t need all the answers. We do need lots of questions.
7. Don’t collect “stuff” to facilitate your teaching (files, units, boxes of ____), collect ideas, collect mentors, collect blogs to follow. The environment will thank you. Your students will thank you. You will thank you.
8. Fill your room with student art. Not only does it create a beautiful place and a source of student pride at every turn, but in the regular making of art, so much happens. Creativity. Risk taking. Problem solving.
9. Take nothing personally
10. Can you answer this question: “What one thing do I want my students to really learn this year?” There is no right answer. But it’s a really great question.
11. Value community. We are one of many people teaching the children in our classrooms. Students come from varied, interesting and diverse backgrounds. Honour their parents. The extended families. The community that surrounds the school. Make connections to the key players – community centre staff, public library staff, recreation program staff, community health nurses, etc. We are all in this together.
12. Say yes a lot. And when you are tempted to say no, ask a question. The room becomes a happier place.
13. Be a reader. A voracious one. And then share your reading life with your students.
14. Learn. Children will teach you countless things daily if you open your eyes and your mind. Acknowledge when it happens. Just the other day, a child demonstrated compassion in a situation when I had reacted with frustration. I thanked him publicly for the lesson and then immediately acted on what he had taught me. I am a learner in my room as well as a teacher.
15. Learn from the wisdom of others. So many people are doing so many amazing things in classrooms all over the world. Tap into that. Begin sharing. And borrow the brilliance.
16. At the end of everyday, make sure you can think of at least one moment that was magic. Savour it and smile.
17. Adore your students. Interact with them so that they always feel this. You won’t need systems to manage behaviour, you will have relationships. When things don’t go well, when mistakes are made, when conflicts arise, the mutual respect and care will carry you through.
18. Ask yourself this question: “What lifetime habits are being learned in this classroom?”
19. Be a storyteller. Our classrooms are a window into how we as a society look after our children. Speak up.
20. There’s a book for that! The power of books is endless. Read to your students daily multiple times. Sharing books together builds community. Shakes up thinking. Touches hearts. Builds knowledge. Connects us.
What would be on your list? What has your teaching journey taught you? Please share, disagree, elaborate, question and wonder in the comment section.