In a post earlier this month, I went over the research showing that a teacher’s high academic standards and expectations result in student success.
I always knew high standards work intuitively. My best teachers—the strict-as-nothing English, music, and karate teachers—all pushed me to new heights. They expected and demanded new heights, and I jumped up to deliver.
Now that I’m a teacher, I teach the same way.
Through observation and the reading of research, I’ve found the five secrets of high expectations teachers that any teacher can follow.
At my father’s funeral on a rainy day twelve years ago, the church was nearly empty and only two people cried.
My mom and I cried, and everyone else present stood dry-eyed, unperturbed, that a man who had lived 42 years on this Earth would be buried under mud.
But I don’t blame them. I know why they didn’t cry.
My dad was a man of integrity. But when he died in an accident, he was a shadow of his former self.
Everybody and his pet rabbit wants to become a teacher. Around this time of year, at least three students tell me they want to become teachers. Later in the year, I often discover, more future teachers pop out of the woodwork.
With eyes that seem to look towards a utopia, these students tell me they want to teach. They tell me they want to share their love of Shakespeare. Biochemistry. The finer points of geography. And they want to inspire. They want to, through their gentle lovingness, spark the latent fire of intelligence and humanity in teenagers obsessed with spinners and dabs.
Do you feel like you’re drowning in marking?
Do you look at a pile of multiple choice tests and groan at the thought of marking each one of them—A, B, C, or D?
These tests, book reports, essays, and paragraphs all pile up on your desk until it’s a fire hazard and your own life is all but swallowed.
If you’re like me, marking overload happens throughout the year, but especially around report card time.
Back in high school, Sandra and I would hang out at lunch and swap our homework and our essays. And then we would edit in red ink on them for the fun of it.
It’s the little things that chip away at your sense of self-respect as a teacher. The parent that screams at you over the phone at the end of the day because you disciplined his child. The parent who, across the table at a parent-teacher interview, tells you how to teach writing. Another parent who has a gripe with you, and instead of talking with you, emails your principal. The child who says, “My mom said that those who can’t do, teach.” The strangers who call your job “glorified babysitting.” Or the child you tutor who tells you that in his home country, he had two teachers who he called servants.
Yes, all of this has happened to me.
I can imagine you have experienced these moments too. You have been treated by adults and children alike like a dirty rag to be pushed around. I know other teachers have been treated with disrespect because their words and actions are telling. All of it may have even made you reconsider teaching and made you say things like this:
“I’m just a teacher.”
I have to stop you there. You’re not just a teacher. You are a teacher. You direct, guide, scold, and embolden the future. You encourage the gutless in the gutters. You set high standards your students cannot even envision. You rile kids up and take bullies down. You make speeches and promises and you deliver. You analyze novels and poems so deeply that these poems and novels—and even parts of life—become understood.
You are a teacher. That is nothing to be ashamed of, and it is nothing to hide.
To develop self-respect as a teacher, teach louder.
Don’t let anyone treat you like a dirty rag. Dress like a modern-day queen or king. Every day, prepare yourself for school. Iron your button-up shirt so firmly that the iron lines show on the arms. Starch your pants and brush the kinks out of your hair. Shine your shoes and look down in them to see your precious teacher face.
You are a teacher.
Respect yourself, and the rest will follow.
I am a strict teacher.
If your child is in my class I have certain expectations for him or her. I expect him to be on time; I expect him to have his materials with him—no, he will not have time to visit his locker for paper and a pen; I expect him to be respectful and say “please” and “thank you”; I expect him to stay seated and quiet during my lesson—yes, I have a seating plan; I expect him to raise his hand when he wishes to speak—I would like to hear him speak; I expect him to have his homework done—yes, I assign and check homework; I expect him to clean up after himself; I expect him to never trash talk any student in my care; I expect him to put his cell phone away or kiss it goodbye; I expect him not to whine, but to work.
I expect a lot from him.
Because I am a strict teacher, I have a lot of expectations.
Because I am a strict teacher, my expectations are often met.
Because I am a strict teacher, my students, in the process of meeting expectations, become better.
All of this because I am strict.
It’s that time of the year when a dry erase marker that won’t work or first block without your morning coffee is enough to flip your normally jovial, light-hearted self into a snarling, spitting cat.
Welcome to the end of the school year, where the survivors are few and the wounded many. You have made it through the morass of the school year—avoided the grenades, crouched low, staked out your territory—and made it to the other side of the trenches. This is no man’s land, but you—and a few other teachers who remain relatively sane—have nearly made it.
Any armchair psychologist need only survey your wrinkled teacher garb and your matted, knotted hair to identify your condition: end-of-year teacher burnout. But it takes a teacher who has been there and done that, one who has gained a degree in armchair psychology from The School of Life to advise a burnt-out teacher what to do about it.
While I may not hold a master’s or PhD, I do hold that precious degree from The School of Life, and here is what I know about end-of-year teacher burnout.
When I was a first year teacher now nearly five years ago, I knew as much about teaching as I do about the types of clouds or the kinds of rocks: I had a vague recollection of learning facts about these things in school long, long ago, but put me in a rock museum or ask me to describe the clouds above my eyeballs, and I’d be stumped.
As a first year teacher, my knowledge of teaching was academic. In teachers’ college, I had been fed from a trough of fun, impractical theories; I had viewed classroom simulations comprised of perfectly behaved adults who playfully mimicked rebellious teenagers; I drank Starbucks lattes and sucked on bonbons as my professors talked about creativity, fun, and social justice. In short, I had no idea what hell awaited me.
Here is my practical advice for first year teachers.
HOW TO BE THE BEST STUDENT TEACHER EVER
Four years. I cannot believe it has been four years since I wrote a blog post.
A lot has happened in my teaching career over the past four years. I moved schools. I now primarily teach English. I’ve read some transformative teaching books. and I’ve recently been inspired by a teacher Youtuber and a great teacher blogger. But none of this compares to having the whole circle of life turned upside down and belly up when I became a mentor teacher to two student teachers.
Two student teachers!
Two days ago was the last day with my second student teacher, who was a pleasure to have in my classroom. For all of you education majors gearing up for student teaching, let me tell you what my latest student teacher did to be the best student teacher ever.
MY TOP 10 TIPS FOR STUDENT TEACHERS