Thursday, July 25, 2013

Advice for New High School Teachers

Address to new teachers to begin the school year

Welcome! Just as we are blessed by the renewal of our school through the many new families that are enrolled with us, so too are we blessed by our new teachers. We are happy you are with us!

You’re going to be overloaded with new information, so I want to keep it simple. Here’s my stab at distilling all the wisdom I can offer you as you begin your careers into five simple pieces of advice.
  • Be yourself. For sure, you have a role to play. If you’re young, you’ve probably never been called Mister Smith or Miss Johnson, and that will take some getting used to.  But you can be yourself within this role. I have never agreed with the maxim “Don’t let them see you smile until Thanksgiving.” The fact is, students respond better to authenticity. It’s OK to laugh at something the students say which is amusing—in fact, it’s quite disarming to them. It’s OK to let the students see you having fun.  It’s OK from time to time (not too often!) to be a little aggravated.  Ultimately, we can’t fool teenagers—they cut through pretense pretty quickly.
  • Be professional. Make sure that what is being taught is substantial and factual, make sure that home work requirements are consistent with what other subjects require, that assessments are frequent and fair, that work is graded in a timely fashion, and that classes are well prepared and taught from beginning to end (nothing destroys the "value" of the subject matter in the students' eyes more quickly than teachers "shutting down" early. The message is the subject matter is important only when the teacher defines it to be so, rather than the teacher being in service to the subject matter). In short, teach your subject as professionally as you can. The kids will follow.
  • Don’t “go it alone.” Seek the advice of your colleagues, share your frustrations with them, and ask questions. If a student is unruly and you’ve practiced the “1-2-3 strikes you’re out” technique (first time warning, second time after school detention, third time, an office referral), don’t be afraid to send them to the office. Too often new teachers fear that an office referral is a statement they “can’t handle things.” Nonsense. The school’s dean of discipline is there to support you.
  • Dive in! Don’t be a person who clocks in at 7:30 and clocks out at 4 each day. Come to ball games. Attend plays. Go to recitals. Nothing connects you with your students faster than to be able to say “Nice hit,” or “great singing,” or “I was impressed with your artwork at the show.” You can’t be at everything; high schools are a blitzkrieg of activity all the time. But make a point to be at one or two things each week. You’ll see kids in a whole new light, and I think you’ll enjoy it, too.
  • Stay close to the Lord. Throughout your career, you will experience crises of confidence, exasperation, frustration, unreasonable parents, troubled teens, bad classes, poor liturgies. You will be misquoted, misrepresented and for some periods of time, mistrusted. But you will also get the unparalleled gift to see the world with wonder again, through the eyes of young people. You will be made a confidante by a young person seeking advice, feel the joy of a weak student who does well on an assignment, cheer for your students in athletic contests, beam with a near parents’ pride as your students graduate. In other words, to borrow a line from our armed services, “It’ll be the toughest job you’ll ever love”. To keep yourself rooted, to keep your ideas fresh, to be the kind of faithful person our young people need to see first hand in a world with such cause for cynicism, stay close to the Lord, both in your daily prayer and in the reception of the sacraments. If you do, the Lord will bless you in your work and you will go to bed each night exhausted, but with a smile on your face.

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