13 Tips & Non-negotiables for Teaching at a High School

Photo Credit: Yours truly, English class, senior year. Brother Norris was one of those teachers who cared deeply and taught life, not only curriculum.

Someone on Quora asked me to give tips for teaching at a high school, so, I did.

Each of these things have made me the teacher I am today. Do these things, and you’ll be the type of high school teacher every student will remember as “that teacher.” We need more of “that teacher” in every school in America.

YOU MUST:

  • have a sense of humor, an unshakeable will, and the ability to change direction on a dime.
  • be able to appraise a situation and decide what fires to put out and what fires to use to toast your marshmallows — everything always seems urgent. It’s usually not.
  • be a master at connecting your material (“Miss, this is boring,”) to your customer’s — students — lives. (“Wow, I never knew I could use that!”)
  • better than a used car salesman at negotiating, because students see through fake every time.
  • be better than the best street performer, an improv star, and a stand up comedian… because that’s what you do every day.
  • be organized yet flexible, ready to change your plan if your lesson didn’t work out.
  • keep your ego in check — that kid’s not challenging you, your work, or your abilities. They’re just asking you to connect your stuff better to them or to help them It’s not about me, it’s about what I can do for my students. And I am the adult and professional — no room for anger here.
  • be able to handle bureaucracy like a Soviet government worker, because there are more things that don’t make sense in education than in any other field — except government.
  • be ready to be knocked down by policy, adults, and regulations. Sadly, it happens a lot in this field.
  • treasure your school if you’re in culture of “yes,” collaboration and innovation, and never leave. If you’re not, thrive by staying connected to teachers in other schools (conferences/Twitter chats, etc…) so you always keep positive and have someone to exchange ideas with.
  • be a champion for social justice — you will run across kids who suffer hunger, injustice, and abuse. You have to learn how to support and help them without letting it drag you down. Because that part’s really hard.
  • be continually learning and practicing the skills you teach your classes — if you’re that coach who can’t do a pushup, the kids will call BS and you can’t be effective.
  • (Above all you must) really, really like each and every kid in front of you. Even if the system weighs you down — and it very well may — you must be excited to get into your class so you can see that kid — every one of those kids… because it’s you who’s responsible for helping those kids find their path to the top of the mountain.