Friday, August 15, 2014

Dear Tyler (advice to my nephew, a first year teacher)

(This blog post is a letter to my nephew Tyler who will be starting his career as an elementary school educator this month.  It is somewhat based on my letter to him when he graduated from college in May that included some advice from my perspective and experience.)

Dear Tyler,

Congratulations!  The long journey and hard work to get to graduation is done.  But, now the MOST IMPORTANT WORK lies in front of you.  The position of an educator is far from just a job; it’s a calling.  What you do each day can make a huge, life impacting change on a student’s life and future.  I am proud that you chose a career in education and proud of YOU.  Here a just a few thoughts as you assume your first teaching position:

Here is where it all begins for successful teachers.  I firmly believe that students don’t always care how much you know until they know how much you care.  When I was a student teacher, my cooperating teacher probably gave me the best advice; “make positive connections with your students by learning something unique about each one and talk to them about their interests."  Know your students.  Treat all students as if they were your own kids.  You might be the only one in a student’s life that cares about them.  If you’ve established good relationships with your students, the need to discipline will be minimal. But, if you do need to discipline a student, be sure to use your caring-concern-disappointed voice and not a voice and demeanor of anger.

An engaged student is rarely a discipline problem (Dave Burgess), so the best classroom management strategy is an engaging curriculum or lesson.  This takes some work because not all lessons are going to be perfect the first time.  But, you can control your enthusiasm, passion, interest, and willingness to learn along with your students.   Be sure your learning environment allows students to experience joy and a sense of awe (Dean Shareski).  Always strive for Better.  Be open to learning how your students learn best.  Just ask the students.  The input that I solicited from my students in my early years of teaching did more for my quest for “better” than any principal evaluation and Master’s level coursework.

When you have the passion and mindset to be the best you can be, your effort will naturally be at the appropriate level. Keep in mind, “Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude” (Dave Burgess).  Have high expectations for yourself and for all of your students.  Believe in them.  Tell your students often; “You are a genius and the world needs your contribution” (Angela Maiers).  In everything you do, “give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you” (Anonymous).

Photo credit Angela Maiers 2011,

Taking care of your physical and mental health are extremely important to being on top of your “teaching” game.  Sound mind, sound body (Asics).  You are going to make mistakes, learn from them and move on.  Have a few “rocks” in your life who you can share your frustrations with and boost you up when times are tough.  The sun will rise the next morning and your students will need you.  No matter what, there is always better.  Never stop learning.  Read, take a class, and learn from others.  Twitter has connected me with some amazing educators across the world.  My Personal Learning Network has probably done more for my professional learning than many of my college courses.  Finally, laugh often, have some fun, and enjoy the ride.  

Best wishes on a successful start to what will be an amazing teaching career for you.  If there is ever anything I can do to help, please let me know.

Uncle Joel

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