A few weeks ago I posted 7 tips for new religion teachers, and asked some of my colleagues, readers and friends for their feedback and contributions. They offered so many good ideas that I’m making a second list – and will be taking a lot of their advice!
Be consistent and fair
This one came from my colleague Dann, who is very good at both of those things. It can be difficult to determine what is fair, but consistency is easy to spot. This saves you grief in the long run, but it also is the right thing for your students. They want to know what to expect.
Though this advice is most often applied to disciplinary/social issues, it is also really important for teaching and assessing material. Your students will do better on quizzes and tests if they know what to expect, not just because they will be well-prepared but because they will be not-terrified. The goal of teaching is not to trick your students so they fail, but to prepare them so they succeed and are proud of it.
(I hope this goes without saying, but don’t be consistent if you were wrong the first time.)
Don’t be afraid to learn – from everyone
Moira, a fellow singing teacher who I met in grad school, made this suggestion. One interesting element of life in a school is that you are surrounded by people. Sure, your spouse who goes to work in an office every day is surrounded by people too, but this is different. You will most likely interact with hundreds of people every day, and each one of these gives you a chance to evaluate and refine your approach to your work.
The first year is the worst
I’m sure this is the case in any job, but in schools it is especially obvious because of the year long cycles we have. Be gentle on yourself, forgive yourself, and keep a long list of things you will tweak for the next year. This tip came from Christian, himself a catechist, who also was good enough to share his guide to lesson planning.
Tend to your own faith life
Cheri made this comment on my first post. I mentioned it a few times, but want to be even clearer here. This is the teacher’s version of “put on your own oxygen mask first”. This is what will connect you back to the reason you are doing this – your vocation, if you will. I find that making time for silence helps me to hear God’s call in so many ways, and this is one of them. Well trained as I am in Ignatian Spirituality, I also make great use of my imagination, which helps me to envision what it is I want to do in my ministry.
Find and use resources
Rob, another friend from grad school, mentioned the books and seminars from Harry and Rosemary Wong as a good place to start. He mentioned in particular The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher. (Amazon affiliate disclaimer – a purchase made through that link puts some change in my piggy bank)
I had that book and didn’t find it particularly helpful, but I think I was using it wrong. It will be really hard to process a lot of advice until you get in the classroom. Without context it’s almost impossible to digest much. I wonder, though, if I had turned back to the book in October, or March, if I would have gotten more out of it.
The same goes for any mentors or specialists you have around to help you. At first, you won’t know what to ask them, but as time goes on things might come up. Even if you can’t quite articulate the question, talking through a challenge in the classroom might allow them to help you more.
Jared Dees at The Religion Teacher made this suggestion in a recent post, and he’s right on the money. I know it sounds like a cliché – people fail only because they were willing to dare greatly and all that – but it’s true! While we want to be careful not to be outlandish, or fail so often that it is to our students’ detriment, we should be willing to throw a lot at the wall and see what sticks.
I inherited my mother’s tendency to get lost a lot, so I have spent many hours making wrong turns, driving up unfamiliar driveways, and flipping maps around to orient myself. And every time I take “the long way” to get somewhere (again), I remind myself that I’m one trip closer to knowing how to get there. It’s the same with teaching. Every mistake means you’ve learned something new, which makes you a little bit better of a teacher.
Really, I mean it, love your students
Another colleague of mine commented on the tip I gave in my previous post about loving your students, and said it was the most important piece of advice he got when he was getting started. This isn’t the same as become too close with them, or violating boundaries, or making your interactions about *your* emotions. All of those things are bad. Just keep your heart open as you teach, and before you know it you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Feel free to keep adding to the list with your comments! And enjoy these last few weeks of summer.
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William Ockham says
Thank you for the additional tips. As a first year teacher this year (albeit only for Sunday Catechism), your Tip #3 scared me 🙂 (although I was anticipating that). Thanks again.
Be not afraid! You’ll be great. Then the following year you will be greater 🙂
Very good reminders. I found all of them to be true when teaching high school religion.
Thanks for the note!
Pray for your students, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Play games with the kids (even if the game is an oral quiz where the right answers earn you a mark on a tic-tac-toe grid).
Good stuff! Thanks!
When my kids ask a question, and I don’t know the answer, or am not satisfied with the answer I have at hand, I loudly give my favorite Pee Wee Herman response: I. Don’t. Know! The kids laugh once again at Stumping The Teacher. But then they will remember the question when I give a good answer at the start of the next class: “Hey, daughter, remember last week you asked about the woman that Jesus called a dog. That’s a great story I’ve never covered in class before, but let’s look at it now before we get into the lesson plan.” http://platytera.blogspot.com/2012/01/snips-snails-kunarion-tails.html
Another great piece of advice! I have grown more and more comfortable with admitting I don’t know. It often gives us an opportunity to be curious and find an answer together.