More Catchphrases

Last summer, I wrote a post about catchphrases for math teachers. Some of those were created by other people, but most were my own. It was a fun way to think about what ideas I consider important enough to summarize in a hopefully memorable slogan. Since then, I have remembered three more of my mantras, which are mostly aimed at younger teachers.  I will share them in this short post, one per paragraph.

– As I mentioned in my first catchphrase post, nothing works in all classroom situations, and teachers need to be eclectic. Too often, we are pressured to adopt one or another currently fashionable article of faith. Doing so rigidly is never a good idea. My advice: trust your intuition, avoid dogma, be flexible, be kind. Of course, your intuition will improve as you get more experience, but even if your intuition is “wrong”, at least it is yours. Your students deserve getting the real you, not a poor imitation. If you are true to all four of these admonitions, you are sure to get better at this job.

– Some teachers are reluctant to miss school, even when they are sick, or when they have an opportunity to attend a workshop or conference. They feel that even missing a day or two would be a betrayal of their students. To them, I say: You are as important as your students. Your getting healthy is of course in your students’ best interest: it will allow you to be at your best when you return. Valuing your own professional development may seem selfish, but if you have a chance of learning something useful to your teaching, keep in mind that it will help not only your current students, but the students in your future — probably many many more than are in your classes right now. And really, are you so great that missing you for a couple of days  is going to permanently damage your students? Didn’t you manage to survive a number of less-than-perfect subs when you were their age?

– A balancing act faces all teachers: how much time should you spend grading? how much time should you spend planning? In the first year or two (or three) of one’s career it is difficult to think clearly about this. The main thing is to survive the day, the week, the semester. But maintaining an unrealistic workload is not sustainable in the long run: it will push you out of the profession sooner rather than later. If you want to stay in the classroom over the long run, you’ll need to balance the different parts of the job, and accept that perfection is not going to happen. (See my post on Growth Mindset for Teachers.) That said, here is a piece of advice from an old-timer: When grading, you are working for one student. When planning, you are working for the whole class. Keep that in mind when you are budgeting your time. Don’t grade more than you need to. Can students correct their own or each other’s work sometimes? When grading, do you really need to write a lot? Do your students read what you write? Do they heed what you write? I’m not suggesting you should be irresponsible, just that you should be efficient. I found that it was enough to circle mistakes on quizzes and tests, and to ask students to turn in quiz corrections. (I already know how to solve the problems: they are the ones who need to figure them out. And grading corrections is fast.)

Well, that’s all for now. If you have favorite catchphrases about our line of work, please share them in the comments!

— Henri

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