Reflections from a Veteran Teacher
Subscribing to the theory that experience is the greatest teacher, the IEA Reporter called on veteran teacher Christine Vilord to share some of her insight and advice with those who are new to the classroom this year or are in the early stages of their careers as professional educators. Vilord is entering her 28th year of teaching, including her 10th year at Notus Junior/Senior High School, where she teaches English, Language Arts and dual credit speech classes.
Coming out of college I was prepared academically for teaching, but what I didn’t realize was how many different hats a teacher has to wear and how challenging it would be to juggle the myriad of situations that face teachers every day. I thought that I would just be “teaching English”, but the “everything else” that comes with teaching wasn’t really presented in college courses—and that is the most important part of the job. With that in mind, here are some of the things that I Wish I Had Known early in my career (along with a few other helpful hints).
- It isn’t emphasized in college courses, but individualized instruction is critical to helping each student reach their potential. “One size fits all” and “my way or the highway” just don’t work. It is important to establish a relationship with each student and to make all lessons interesting and at individual student levels. Emphasize the how and why for more advanced students.
- Be flexible with your lesson plans and your daily routines. Don’t hesitate to abandon them and come at things a different way if you encounter teachable moment opportunities.
- As I was coming into the profession female teachers were instructed not to smile in class and to be authoritarian. That approach no longer works. You must still set a tone of being in charge, but you need to also be a real person that students can relate to.
- Just as students are different, so are parents. Parent involvement will run the gamut from those who have little to no interest in participating in the education process to those who will may be involved to the point of micro-management. Be respectful of their viewpoints and responsive to their preferences.
- Remember that not very many students live in “traditional” households, even in more affluent areas. Many of them have less than ideal home situations.
- Child abuse and problems with drugs and alcohol are real issues that can crop up anywhere and with any student. Be observant and establish a good rapport with your school counselor so that students can get help when they need it.
- Be very careful with social media. Remember that everything you post is permanent and public, and help students understand the potential pitfalls as well.
- I use Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones extensively and I recommend that you read it and refer back to it.
- I thought that I knew everything and that asking questions was a sign of weakness, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Collaborating, networking and learning from other teachers will help you do your job better. The IEA is a great resource for these kinds of professional development.