To the New High School Teacher: Some Tips

Several years ago, my nephew, Jake, changed his major from journalism to education. We went out to dinner to discuss his decision.  I told him teaching was not for the weak.  Teaching will break your heart, I said.  I told him many of his students would be poor, have few resources at home and find education alienating, even dangerous.   But, I told him, teaching is one of the only profession where you can actually change the direction of a child’s life by arming her with tools to better her life.

As I am preparing to go back to school for my year twenty, I thought about the advice I gave to Jake and the advice I would give to any new teachers who will be stepping into a high school classroom for the first time.  Here’s my list, in no particular order:

  • You can change the world if your goal is lofty, and your scope is small.
  • Never, ever, ever make a student feel stupid. You will be the lesser for it.
  • Have high expectations, but don’t be crushed when students can’t or won’t live up to them. Keep them high anyway.
  • You must have capacity to detect bull crap and call kids on it.  Most kids lie to teachers.  It doesn’t make them evil; they are just kids. Love them over the top of it.
  • Focus on each student individually; teach every student, every day.
  • Do not live at the school.  Go home at a reasonable hour every day and do something that refreshes you – tennis, gardening, reading, writing, cooking. Remember who you are.
  • Be prepared every day. And if you come to school unprepared,which will eventually happen, don’t sweat it. Have a really great writing prompt waiting in the wings.
  • Your divorce, bankruptcy, or drinking problems are not classroom appropriate. Find a counselor or a good friend.
  • Remember, you are there to teach them something, not to be cool and relive your own high school years — really, there’s nothing more pathetic.
  • Know the difference between motivating a student and bullying him.
  • Humor is the best.
  • Being able to tell a story well is essential.
  • Consistency, respect, and fairness are attitudes you must practice every day. Cultivate them to a high art.
  • Meaningful assignments and real world connections will give you tremendous returns.
  • Getting a reputation for being completely insane about your subject is the best that you can hope for.
  • Be real.
  • Your students will love you if you respect them enough to do your job well.
  • The best teaching tool is questioning – not telling the student what he wants to know, but asking the right kind of question, so he’ll figure it out on his own.
  • Some teachers will not be as committed as you.  Encourage those miserable souls to find their true calling in retail.
  • A full moon or a cafeteria fight makes kids go really crazy. Tell them to rise above the drama.
  • High stakes testing corrupts everyone. Teach your students to think — they will spank any test.
  • New standards roll around every decade or so. Rise above the turbulence and carry on.
  • Every single day, go into your classroom and shut your door and stand in front of a group of kids, and help them discover something– how to write a brilliant sentence, how to creatively solve a math problem, how to fail and keep on trying.
  • Kindness never fails. Practice it from the first day to the last.


Good Luck! Fall break will be here before you know it!

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  • Veda

    Social Studies

    Excellent advice!  I am a teacher of 13 years and am making the transition from middle to high school and am wondering how things might be different with the students.  What you offered was very practical.


    Acworth, GA




  • SarahTuttle

    That is one of the best

    That is one of the best article I have read about teaching tips. As part of teacher group, I am a still a new learner I have more experience in writing affordable assignment then teaching but as Its my passion to become a teacher and help future of our country. I know what is the important of a good teacher I was a messed-up child and I am here because of my teachers. They never did give up on me and they made me feel special though I was an average student with no super brain or something still they did believe on me and now I have completed my masters and I am moving on my studies it’s all Thanks to them.