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Growing Into Teaching: Be Organized But Flexible


This is the sixth in a series of 10 lessons retired teacher Tom Krause says every new teacher needs to learn to grow in the profession.

Welcome to teaching! You are now part of a profession solely dedicated to helping students of all ages learn. It is a profession where the more you give, the more you get in return. Most famous people are eventually forgotten, but teachers live on in the hearts and minds of their students.

First you need to learn the rules and operating procedures of your new building and district.  Once you have that down, it is time to grow into your occupation.

These are lessons every new teacher should learn. Do not expect to learn them all at once, but as you gain experience, you will find these lessons valuable.

6. Be Organized But Flexible

Nothing is worse in a classroom than chaos. Students love structure. Knowing a teacher is in charge calms anxiety. That is why organization is so important.

If time is not filled by you, the teacher, it will be filled by the students. As little as 60 seconds is enough to lose focus for some children. Sometimes a little free time is necessary, but even then students will look to you to establish control if chaos starts to arise. A well-structured classroom does not waste time necessary for student learning.

Have a plan, stick to the plan, always have a backup plan. Experienced teachers have learned that preparation for a lesson is half the battle. Too much changing of directions is confusing to the students. Classroom leaders know to not deviate from a plan unless it is apparent to all the plan is not working.

The other half is being flexible enough to change course should something go wrong. Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will at the worst possible moment. At any moment there could be a distraction from an announcement, a fire drill or technology glitch that makes the lesson plan of the day impossible. Be prepared.

The same holds true for substitutes when you are absent. Keep in mind that the person filling in will not have your expertise to answer your students’ questions or teach a lesson like you. First of all, they will not have the student/teacher connection you have established. Second, the classroom procedures you take for granted such as attendance, lunch count or discipline procedures differ from building to building. Last, they may not come from the same educational background as you. Imagine a retired elementary teacher being asked to sub in a high school classroom. Veteran teachers know not to expect too much from substitutes and will leave plans suited to the situation.

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