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I wish I had known: 4 Teacher Habits I Learned the Hard Way

I wish I had known: 4 teacher habits I wish I knew when I first started teaching that I learned the hard way

If your undergraduate program or teacher certification program was anything like mine, you only learned a small amount of practical information to take with you into the classroom. And I am NOT blaming it on my professors by any means – there is just only so much you can learn from talking about theories, or even shadowing another teacher. So much of my teacher education has been a “trial by fire”, so to speak, of learning the hard way.

This is especially true when it comes to teacher habits. That first year with a classroom full of 25+ teenagers staring at you hour after hour is like drinking out of a fire hose. You are just doing the best you can to manage all of the things and figure it out as you go – all with a casual audience of adolescents judging your every move.

As a consequence, it resulted in the formation of a lot of bad teacher habits, so to speak, that I created as survival mechanisms those first few years. Over time, I learned from experience and the wisdom of other teachers and had to rework how I did a lot of things.

Once I did – WOW. How I wish I had known to implement these teacher habits when I first started teaching! And while I can’t go back in time and change the course of history, I can at least share the 4 most critical teacher habits that I learned the hard way. Looking back, if I could have started these from day 1, I think it would have made ALL of the difference.

Teacher Habit #1: I wish that I had known to ENGAGE PARENTS PROACTIVELY!

Teacher Habit #1: I wish I had known to ENGAGE PARENTS PROACTIVELY.

If you are a long time reader of my corner of the internet, then you have heard me admit before my original parent communication strategy, which can basically be summed up as:

  1. Avoid communicating with parents and guardians at all costs.
  2. Put out fires with parents as they arise (often at every 9-week progress report or semester report card).

Just typing that makes me stressed thinking back on how HORRIBLE this teacher habit I created worked out for me. The fires started to pile up and there was always so much drama around my interaction with parents because I was constantly reacting to whatever situation was right in front of me.

Over time I learned, however, that the best way to communicate with parents is to proactively engage them. I do this by:

  • Pursuing relationships with them from the beginning of the year.
  • Bringing them in for a face-to-face conference at the FIRST sign of any potential conflict (this helps to keep mole hills as mole hills rather than letting them become mountains.)
  • Having a consistent mass communication system so they feel “in the know”.
  • Sending them positive encouragement about their students.

Want to hear more about how I implemented the teacher habits listed above? Check out this post for more detail on implementing an effective AND manageable parent communication system!

If I avoided parents like the plague my first year teaching, then it also goes to say that I basically made sure to socially distance myself from admin as much as I could, too. This was another big mistake that became a bad habit I had to break down the road by forming a MUCH healthier teacher habit…

Teacher Habit #2: I wish that I had known to BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH ADMIN.

Teacher Habit #2: I wish I had known to BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH ADMIN.

To be honest I was afraid of my administration during my first few years teaching. I taught at a really large public school with a very intimidating principal and 5 assistant principals underneath him. There were SO many teachers too that I felt like a very small fish in a big pond. My strategy was to keep my head down, not cause any issues, and hope for the best.

I learned over time though that this was a terrible teacher habit. There were so many ways I could utilize my admin to support me, but I couldn’t start asking until I built a relationship with them.

Start small by simply just seeing your admin as people and not just your supervisors! Care about who they are and ask them about their lives. It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort and it really makes ALL of the difference. Once you establish a foundational relationship with them, here are my favorite ways to have your admin support you without having to ask them to spend ANY money!

Teacher Habit #3: I wish that I had known to ONLY WORK DURING WORK HOURS.

Teacher Habit #3: I wish I had known to ONLY WORK DURING WORK HOURS.

I cannot emphasize enough how DESPERATELY I needed to create this teacher habit for myself a few years in. I was consistently working 60 hours a week. I was ALWAYS bringing a stack of projects or lab reports home to grade. I NEVER felt like I could REALLY unplug from my teacher life.

It took a major toll on me personally. I essentially had no boundaries between work life and home life. So I had to draw a line in the sand. I decided upon specific work hours (in addition to my school day) of what days I would go in early each week and what days I would stay late. I ONLY did work during these hours and I NEVER brought it home.

The result was truly life-changing. I can’t tell you how much better I became at my job when I started actually treating it like a JOB and not like my entire life. Having boundaries was the best thing I ever did for me, my family, AND my students – because when I was at school, my students were getting the BEST version of me.

This teacher habit is one of the foundations for why I decided to write my Secondary Science Simplified™️ professional development course. I want every teacher to experience the freedom that comes from simplifying your work life and reclaiming your home life! To learn more, you can check out the course here.

Teacher Habit #4: I wish that I had known to USE MY SUMMERS PRODUCTIVELY.

Teacher Habit #4: I wish I had known to USE MY SUMMERS PRODUCTIVELY.

My first few summers I was busy taking graduate courses to finish my M.Ed. Once that was completed, I just wanted to completely veg out, if I am honest. But I’ve learned that establishing a few work hours during the summer makes ALL the difference in setting yourself up for success come next school year. YES, you should absolutely be resting and unplugging from work – you deserve it!!

But I also highly recommend choosing a few hours each week – or blocking out two full weeks of your summer if you would rather binge work – to really use your time wisely. Personally, I LOVE to use the summer to batch lesson plan. I am most creative when I am not distracted by grading, lab prep, and parent emails, so the summer is the best time to re-evaluate my lesson plans for the next school year. With lesson planning off my plate, my school year workload is SO much more manageable too.

You can read more about my curriculum design process here if you are writing a curriculum from scratch for one of your preps, or my general tips for lesson planning here.

Looking for more structured support for how to use your summer productively?? Join us in the next round of Secondary Science Simplified™️, my completely virtual professional development course written specifically for high school and middle school science teachers. This course is only open for enrollment in June each year, so if you are interested, don’t miss out!

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