When I started my teaching career, I was fortunate to have a boss who mentored me. I got into teaching through the back door, so I needed more help than the average first-year teacher! Doug spent one on one time with me each week (even though I'm sure he really didn't have the time to do so!), giving me advice. All these years later, I'm still following these bits of wisdom that he passed on:
- Be STRICT, but be NICE. Doug always said he was going to write a book about this one day. It is possible to be strict, or in other words, to be consistent in requiring that students do what you ask them to, without being mean. Make this your motto.
- You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. As much as possible, reward students for doing what you want them to, rather than attempting to punish every time they don’t. This helps keep the tone in your classroom positive. Elementary school teachers are great at this, but high school teachers sometimes forget to do this.
- What you do in the first 10 days of class sets the tone for the rest of the year. Start the year with this in mind. If you want your students to be excited about learning, this is the time to pull out all the stops. Lead by example, and your students will follow. You are the teacher, and you can decide how you want your class to go!
- Make sure students know what they should study for a test. Students should not have to guess at what they need to study. They should also be given plenty of advance notice regarding the date of the test (I suggest at least a week).
- Make it possible for your students to succeed if they do their part. Be clear in your directions. Keep your expectations high while offering the suggestions and the help that students will need to meet those expectations. Teach students HOW to study for your class. Give written instructions for projects, in addition to giving an oral explanation of the same. Include an explanation of how you will grade the project.
- Find ways to make learning FUN. Doug gave me the idea to use “Jacques” the mannequin in my French classroom. Doug used to teach history, and after the students studied the Civil War, he brought in a bag of musket balls and had students create “musket ball art”. Think up your own ways to make learning interesting in your subject.
- Pace the lesson properly. Maximize the learning and minimize the problems by moving at an appropriate pace. Pay attention to how much time students need to get the intended benefit from an activity. If you allow too much time, students will get bored and start engaging in other undesirable behaviors. If you allow too little time, students will become frustrated and angry.
- Exemplify organization. Know what you are doing in each lesson (write out your lesson plans!) and have all your materials ready for each activity in advance. If you appear disorganized, students will believe you are disorganized, even if you are not.
- Make it count. As much as possible, make every activity you do in your classroom count towards their grade. Very few teenagers are mature enough to do their best at completing an activity if it doesn’t affect their grade. And if they aren’t completing the activities you’ve planned, then they probably aren’t learning like they should.
- Realize that there will be days when you won’t feel like teaching. During Doug’s years as principal at SCS, his 3 month old son died unexpectedly. He shared with me that there were many days during that time when he felt that he just couldn’t face a classroom. Life happens, and we’re all certain to have periods of time when personal difficulties make it hard to face a classroom. That’s the way this profession is, and Doug told me that on those days, you just have to put on a smile and fake it. As obvious as this may seem to some, this was some very important advice that I really needed to hear as a first-year teacher.
Doug was not your typical high school principal. He rode a Harley-Davidson to work. He was cool. He led by example and served others behind the scenes, often without recognition. He had been a master teacher himself before becoming principal. He was without a doubt one of the most influential people in my life, and if I ever write a book, it will be dedicated to him :).