Strangely absent from any official curriculum--often considered a form of contraband revealed only through secret conversations and in code-- are the covert formulas, practices and dictums on which long-time teachers rely. These secrets are, at last, available for public review:
1. You can always get easier but you can't get harder. New teachers often want their students to like them. This is a mistake. It's just dandy if they end up liking you, but during the first few days and first few weeks of class, what your students need to do is respect you. They need to concern themselves with their performance and your judgment of it. You do not really need to concern yourself with their judgment of you. The students are not your friends, just as your own children (if you have them) are not your friends and just as your own parents (if they've done a good job) are not your friends. Being an effective teacher depends in part on your willingness to establish boundaries and maintain them. If you come in acting like Mr. Rogers, you cannot then turn into Donald Trump; you cannot come in as Betty Boop and turn into Judge Judy. You can lighten up throughout the term, but no one will take you seriously if you become tougher. Much better to start out tough and end up warm and fuzzy.
2. Even if students say they don't care about anything, they do. Help them recognize, articulate, and embrace their appetites.
3. Nothing but nothing beats remembering the names of your students. Allow me to emphasize the fact that this is a very important skill. If this sounds overwhelming because you have so many students, just remember you only have to remember their names while they're in your classes. It is only necessary that you remember their names in situ. Once the class is over, you should feel free to say simply, "Hello there!" with sufficient enthusiasm.
4. One important way you can help your students succeed is to make them understand that the heart fluttering and breath-holding feeling they have when they think they're going to be asked a question is anticipation, not fear. They should associate excitement rather than trepidation with the idea of being called on. Although it's sometimes tedious to acknowledge every comment a student makes during a discussion, it's worth it. Calling on one kid after another without recognizing what the previous student has said in any way is as disrespectful as somebody talking to you at a cocktail party, but looking over your shoulder to see if there's someone more interesting to talk to as soon as you shut up. Listen carefully to your students; they'll respond by listening carefully to you.
6. Students do not have to make you happy; that's not their job. Their job is to learn what you're teaching them. You must believe that what you're teaching them is something they'll need to know. You are the authority not because you're in control of the situation but because you can give them what they'll need to carry them through their lives.
7. And finally, whether your classroom is in the Poughkeepsie, in Portland, or in Prague, remind yourself of this: if you're doing it well, teaching always will take you a little bit by surprise.