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Roger Barbee: Baker's dozen of tips for teachers


By Roger Barbee

In thinking about the school year teachers just began or are about to begin, I have a few suggestions for them. It is my wish that this baker's dozen is of benefit.

1. Take care of yourself. Your work is demanding and does not end with the 3:15 bell. You likely have out-of-school responsibilites such as a second job or a family or community activities. Yours is a busy schedule and it takes a toll. However, as a primary influence in the lives of our children, your health and well-being are important. Please eat well, get rest, and exercise. Your day is often not your day, but carve out 30 minutes in each to get some form of exercise. You and our children will benefit.

2. Be a learner, too. Often we expect you to know all the answers, knowing that this is not possible. "I don't know, but will find out," is a good answer to a student's question. Let our children see you using a dictionary, searching the library, or reading a book. In this way you model the behavior of a learner for our children.

3. Know and use correct grammar. Just as rules are important in games and activities, grammar is, too. Use correct grammar in your speech and writing. "She did good on the test," or "I seen it on the T.V." are indicators of an indifference to what matters. Yes, we all, as Mark Twain wrote, "Have the capacity for sin," but strive to always be correct in your grammar. It matters.

4. Allow your students a fresh start. Each child sitting in your class has changed from the child he/she was last June. For the first few weeks of this school year, learn each child as he or she is now, and resist the urge to ask the teacher from last year what a student was like. You may, later, need to do this in order to help the student, but for the first few weeks, learn the child sitting in your room.

5. Whatever you teach, teach well. Jim Basker, a friend of mine who teaches English at Columbia University, once said to me, "I don't care if they [students] have read Moby Dick, but make sure they can write a good paragraph." Our children will best benefit from a deep study instead of a broad study of any subject. Covering more is a false road to academic success. Consider reading complete novels and go into depth for each. Scatter shots are good for dove hunting and turkey hunting, but do little for our children.

6. Require your students to write. Too often writing is thought of as something done in English classes. No matter what you teach, incorporate writing into your curriculum. Writing not only improves the written skills of our children, it improves their thinking.

7. Do not use a teacher's edition of a text book. If you use a book with the answers marked in red, etc. you will not see the work as your students see it. Look at what they see, and you may have a better understanding and appreciation of its complexity. You will be more patient.

8. Realize and admit your power, so use it in a positive way. You are more than a teacher of a subject, you are one of our childrens most important role models. Our children watch you and listen to you whether inside or outside your classroom. Used well, this power can help you change a life.

9. Accept that you will not like each child in your class, but respect each as a learner who can benefit from being in your class.

10. Filter every word you hear in any teacher's lounge.

11. Do not spread yourself too thin. Let another teacher sponsor a club or activity or coach a sport. However, being involved in one extra-curricular activity will help you meet other students and allow students to know you in another role.

12. Understand and appreciate the social capital that each of our children bring to your class. If you do, you both will benefit. Like you, they cannot entirely separate home from school. Accept their humanity.

13. Get parents or guardians involved in your classroom as much as possible. If they are on-board with you, the sailing will be smoother.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at redhill@shentel.net.


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