When I say it's really simple, what I mean by that is that it's very easy for me to dispense advice. Adhering to it could prove challenging! But here are a few basic lessons to contemplate as you embark upon your teaching career at Norris:
- Gratitude is the right attitude. We are privileged to be in education and to have the opportunity to work with young people. It is a wonderfully inspiring life to be an educator. Be thankful you get to live this challenging and rewarding adventure! We all have moments where the gratitude slips and the cynicism spikes, but let's not let those fleeting moments define us.
- The compassionate response is usually the correct one. Students will frustrate you. Their behaviors will perplex and annoy you. And some of them, well, you'll find their limit-testing behaviors downright annoying. The punitive reaction, though, will seldom bring about the results you really want. If you're really about promoting positive relationships and building a collaborative learning environment, you'll ask yourself first, "What can I do differently to bring this kid around?" before you resort to punting students out of class, office referrals, or hollow verbal admonitions that just turn students away or against you. Yes, the discipline code and all the rules and regs have their place. But students conduct themselves admirably mostly due to a classroom climate and school culture of mutual respect and caring - not because the language in the student handbook is ironclad.
- Don't say "We can't," "I won't," or "That'll never happen" (or any variant thereof) when students initiate ideas with you related to their learning. It is not your job to place obstacles in front of students which deter their innate curiosity or convince them that adults don't listen, don't care, or don't value them as people. Find a way.
- Don't allow your instruction to be characterized by a pale, bland uniformity in the name of "consistency." Yes, you have a curriculum - you have essential questions and major objectives and you must dutifully promote student attainment of mastery related to these. There are many paths and myriad road maps to proficiency. Is your classroom going to be a pale monolith of grayish monotony or a multi-colored monument to the innate creativity and intellectual curiosity of your students?
- When students initiate ideas with you related to their learning, and your impulse is to say, "That doesn't fit with my lesson plan," your immediate response overriding that impulse should be, "Let's think that over." When it comes to differentiating instruction, you'd better get there - and fast, if you want to keep students engaged and really foster high levels of achievement.
- "Let's work together, c'mon, c'mon, let's work together." Remember that old song by Canned Heat? You probably don't. They played at Woodstock. The '69 version. Nevertheless, the song I'm referencing emphasizes the partnership you need to establish with parents. Reach out. Too many young teachers are anxious and insecure about interacting with parents. Get over it. Make the calls. Build the relationships. Connect. Share. Ask for input, and don't be afraid to share your expertise. They're counting on it.
- Build an expansive Professional Learning Network and use it. It's never been easier to do so and that means it's never been more unforgivable to live a life of painfully myopic isolation as a teacher. You shouldn't just be reaching across the hallway and down the next wing. You should be reaching across states and nations and around the world to connect with other educators, share your insights, and steal their best ideas to bring them home here. Blog. Tweet. Reach out and greet and meet other educators. Use professional affiliations from PDK to ASCD, but don't for a second limit yourself to the institutionalized
- Have fun. At Norris, we don't check our own spirit of intellectual curiosity at the door. A sense of wonderment is appropriate! Go ahead and revel in the awesomeness of the ability of individual learners and classrooms to inspire and amaze you. Share that with your colleagues. You are hereby ordered to inspire others and be inspired by them.
- Have a great year. See you in your classrooms and out in the halls, and I look forward to connecting with you out in cyberspace. I post on this blog, my webpage is on the district site, and I tweet @jskretta.