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Advice for Pre-Service Teachers

Idealism and Unreality.

That's how I would characterize my minimal pre-service time.

Fortunately and unfortunately though, I had very little time before my theoretical learning and my practical experience collided.

Teaching was a second career and since I was a young twenty-something with rent, I couldn't afford to do all of my learning before I got into the classroom.

Back in those days, it was called an "alternative route." The wisdom was to place an extremely green teacher in a high-need school with a mentor and let them learn on the job rather than with a traditional program.

Every day was a learning experience (most of which I don't believe any schooling could have prepared me for).

13 years later and my idealism is still one of my best teaching qualities, but it is tempered with tangible experiences and realistic expectations.

Despite tremendous challenges throughout my career, there is nothing else I see myself doing as a career; teaching changed my life. It has helped me develop into the kind of person I always want to be and every child who has participated in that experience has left an important imprint which makes me better.

There are lots of things that I thought I knew in the beginning that I definitely didn't... Lots of misconceptions and straight-up myths that I conjured based on my own learning experience.

So here's a little advice from a middle career teacher who still loves what she does... do with it what you will:

  • Smile every day. Regardless of silly advice like "don't smile til December," greet your students with warmth. It makes a difference.

  • Just because you learned one way, doesn't mean it's the best way for you to teach. Get to know your kids and learn how they want to be taught; it's their turn.

  • Love where you are teaching NOW, not where you could be or where you were. Finding the right fit as a teacher is everything. Decide to be a part of the community you live in not the one you wish you lived in. If you aren't happy, it's just better to leave.

  • Make mistakes and relish in them. We are human and because those foibles happen, how we model self-correction defines us. Show your students making mistakes happen and it's okay.

  • Apologize quickly. We all have bad days, diminish damages by saying sorry and meaning it.

  • Experiment widely. Learn the technology that the kids are using and take risks in how you implement it. Always makes sure you do it with a purpose and a transparent reason.

  • Keep an open mind. The smartest person in the room is the room and allowing for new ideas all the time guarantees growth. You just don't know where or when genius will happen. Let it.

  • There is no one right way to do anything. Perspective is everything and problem-solving is an innovation skill. Just keep asking "what if...?"

  • Challenge the status quo if for no other reason than it should always be changing appropriately with the folks you are teaching... they'll thank you for it and you'll have more fun. 

  • Be flexible. Just because you plan for something, doesn't mean that's the way it should happen. Read the room and adjust accordingly.

  • Remember that you will never know everything, so just enjoy the learning process.

  • Have fun. Teaching is the most rewarding and most challenging career around, but it will change you. Enjoy the madness.

What advice do you have for pre-service teachers? Or pre-service teachers what questions do you have? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in February 2015

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