16 Things I Wish They’d Taught Me In College

By January 28, 2011 Guest Posts

(But I Secretly Knew I’d Have To Learn For Myself)

  1. Don’t expect your classroom to look like everyone else’s. Even now I get nervous when I have a new administrator peeking in my room the first few weeks of the year. There will, inevitably, be at least one child lying under the computer counter reading a book clutching any of a random assortment of stuffed toys in my room. Yes, I could make them sit in a desk to read, but frankly, when I’m reading for pleasure, I don’t sit in a desk. Do you?
  2. English teachers have a LOT of paperwork. That seems pretty basic, but really, unless you ARE an English teacher you have absolutely no idea. It’s mind-numbing.
  3. It’ll be time to quit when I’m not nervous on the first day of school. I still worry about how the kids will perceive me (goal: not too nice, not too mean, witty as heck) on the first day. Fortunately, if I blow it completely, the kids usually FORGET the first day as evidenced when they blank out on locations of all supplies, basic classroom rules and procedures, and, in fact, my name.
  4. There are many parents who are excellent at advocating for their child. There are also many children who desperately need their teachers to be their advocates.
  5. Scissors sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide along laminating … it’s faster and easier not to snip, snip, snip my way along the kazillons of letters I make each year. My mom taught me that one when she cut out most of my bulletin boards my first year teaching. And my second year, when I realized I didn’t like anything I made the year before …
  6. Label EVERYTHING. Throw nothing away. Invest in a giant file cabinet. Do a good cleanout every August. (I’ve found if I do it in June I throw away EVERYTHING just so I can be done.)
  7. Adoring the job does not mean that you may not also love snow days, two-hour delays, three-day weekends, and vacations. I am a better teacher when I get a break. June seems very far away in mid-January.
  8. There is no end to the workload. At some point I realized if I take everything home every day, I might as well not have a home. Or children. Or dogs. Or a husband. Set your limits and stick to them.
  9. Never read past the “academic needs” page of a student’s file until a few weeks into the school year. Form your own impression of the kiddo first – behaviors for one teacher aren’t always the same for another. What if no one had ever given you a second chance?
  10. You will need an apple shelf. Or corner. Or desk. Just accept it now. At some point the stereotype will change and we’ll all get, say, rutabagas instead of apples for Christmas. Until then, find a place to proudly display them so your students know you love each and every one of the darn things equally.
  11. No one says you have to be friends with your principals … but there’s not much point in being enemies, either. Administrators can and will be your best advocates if you give them the opportunity… and too often we don’t.
  12. Find a mentor, and not just as a first or second year teacher. I’ve been a teacher for quite a while, and have mentored lots of new teachers. However, on my bad days I still travel to one particular classroom in my building to vent and bask in the wisdom of another. She’s made me laugh and cry, frequently at the same time. Were it not for her I may have thrown in the towel years ago. (Not-so-coincidentally, she’s also a Gold Star teacher.)
  13. Remember you are the adult. Kids will argue, kids will fight, kids will pout and stomp and kick and scream and bite and yell and say they hate you and wish to never see you again. And you’ll teach them anyway because once upon a time you were also a child who was angry or sad or hungry or just didn’t know what you were — and a teacher taught you anyway.
  14. Remember you are the adult. Do not argue, fight, pout, stomp, kick, scream, bite, yell, or say you hate anyone and wish to never see them again — especially not in the teachers’ lounge.
  15. I don’t even need to write about June, July, and August, do I? If you’re reading this, you probably already know they don’t exist. But everyone you know who is NOT a teacher will remind you how wonderful those months must be for you. Don’t hit them either, even if it’s outside of the teachers’ lounge.
  16. When your principal tells you that you’ve taught an excellent lesson, or a student tells you that you are her favorite teacher of all time no-matter-what, or you win a really incredible award, relish it. For it is incredibly possible that tomorrow your lesson will bomb miserably, that same student will throw a rutabaga at your car, and that coveted award will mock you from the frame on the wall. But you will shake it off, pick up a stack of work to take home, stop to talk to two co-workers, a parent, and at least five students in the hallway, and get ready to do it all again tomorrow. Because that is what real teachers do … just be sure to dodge the rutabaga.

What lessons do YOU wish they would have taught you in college about the classroom? Feel free to dish here.


Trela Rottinghaus is a 2010 Gold Star Award for Outstanding Teaching recipient and an 8th grade language arts teacher at George Washington Carver Academy.