1 Thing New Teachers Should Know


Emily Witt

Part of the ongoing 1 Thing series.

I went to school at one of the finest universities in the South. I had teachers there that taught me how to be a teacher. They taught me to use manipulatives in math instruction and how important technology is in education. They taught me about whole language and phonics and classroom management. I learned about lesson planning and backwards planning and formative assessments and summative assessments and I can throw around the words “curriculum, standards and benchmarks”with the best of ‘em. I left that fine university prepared to be the best teacher on the face of the planet.

But there were some things that those professors of mine left out.

Always carry a garbage bag on field trips. Pack an extra lunch just in case someone’s mom forgets. Keep peppermints on your desk for coughs and sweet tarts in your drawer for tummy aches. Squat when you talk to little kids. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Prepare to cry. Prepare to cry in front of your class. It happens. If you think you look fat in that polka dot skirt, don’t wear it. Kids will tell you that you do. Check your zipper, your teeth, and your nose before you leave the bathroom. On second thought, learn to hold it. You’re not going to have time to go to the bathroom.

Be good to janitors, cafeteria ladies and the secretary. They can make things happen. Stand up straight. Be neat. Carry yourself well. Be someone your students can look up to. Hold tightly to your heart. Kids have a way of taking it from you. Show your students respect. Remember that the angrier you get, the softer your voice should sound. Go to baseball games and soccer games every once in a while. You’re a role model. Act like it.

Write thank you notes. Call parents more often than you think you should. Tell the little girl with the dirty hair that she’s beautiful. Let the little boy that isn’t wearing this year’s shoes be the leader. Tell him what a good example he is. Play classical music sometimes. Read out loud. They’re never too old to hear your voice. You should have a Ziploc bag, a Sharpie, and an index card with you at all times. Kids lose teeth to the tooth fairy in the second grade, to the class bully in the eighth, and to football in high school.

Go to recess sometimes. Watch how children interact. Listen to how they talk. Jump rope if you get the chance. Visit the teacher that’s been at your school for thirty years. Ask her why she does it. Ask her why she stays. Listen to her stories. She may be old school, but she knows more than you. Always have a backup plan. Don’t be afraid to say no sometimes. That summer vacation you think you’re getting? Yeah, right. There’s professional development. You’re changing grades. You’re changing subjects. You’re changing classrooms. That break you’re getting? It’s more of a quick little breath.

If you think it might go wrong, it will. Don’t complain. Make it work. Avoid the teacher’s lounge. There isn’t a copier in a school in the continental US or the world, for that matter, that operates like it should. Borrow ideas from anyone and everyone. Share. Get to know the teacher next door. Leave cookies or a Diet Coke on her desk. Love every single child that walks through your door. Love them like they’re yours because for 180 days, they are. They’re yours to shape and to mold. They’re yours to inspire, to guide, to love, to change. And you’re their hero. Earn the title.

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Clif Mims is a Christian, husband, father, teacher, cancer warrior, and fan of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Memphis Grizzlies.

16 thoughts on “1 Thing New Teachers Should Know”

  1. Emily, Summer sent this to me last week and I was the cause of half of Katy, Texas reading it. (It was the WOW entry read by Laura Low). I thought it was a fabulous entry. I’ve been teaching almost 30 years so appreciated the part about using us dinosaurs as resources. I sent it to my faculty and a few friends in other buildings. The ripple began there and the waves kept on going! (We have 31 elementary schools so you made a bigger impact than you originally thought!). Keep up the good work…even when eruptions happen in the cafeteria! It is never ever a dull occupation! Enjoy the students, endure the paper work, and keep the kiddos in your heart…parents are sending us their most prize possessions. What an awesome responsibility.
    J.P.’s mom Sherry

  2. Emily,
    Were you by chance at Oxford Elementary teaching?? That’s where I student taught in Mrs. Johnson’s 4th grade class. Your blog was shared with my school that I teach at in Katy, Texas. The subject was WOW! And wow it is! I’d love to hear how you’re doing, shoot me an e-mail if you have a chance! Hope all is well!
    Laura Low

  3. I sent this to my school as soon as I read it. I have gotten all positive reactions to it. It was a good reminder to all the teachers, not just new ones, about what teaching is really about.

  4. This is an excellent post. You are an excellent role model. The one sentence – “avoid the teacher’s lounge” is right on!

  5. Okay, I admit it…I’m a sap. I have tears in my eyes right now because THIS is what teaching (and parenting) is all about. Thanks for confirming why I’m in Education!

  6. Thanks for this blog post. It is a message in good season. You never know what will capture your students’ attention. Always have a back up plan and learn that some days the best laid plans are impossible. My cooperating teacher taught me very early in my student teaching that some days you just have to punt.

  7. Dr. Mims,

    Thank you for the pleasure of blogging here on your site. What an honor!

    And Jackie, I try to get them to say ma’ams and sirs, too. 🙂 Manners are a big deal to me as well.

  8. Wow! I’ve been working with new teachers for over 10 years. I plan on sharing your piece with them. Every piece of advise is right on! Thanks so much! What a great way to start the year!


  9. Emily,

    I agree with everything that has been said here. You did a good job reminding us that teaching is about the people.


    Thanks for reminding us to model the use of manners. I think that is a big deal.

  10. Thank you, I really enjoyed reading that and it is all so true. I’d also add, never be so busy that you forget to say please, thank you and sorry when they are needed.

  11. Very nicely done. Great blog post. Thanks for sharing the link with Plurk today. These things are so true. Parts of it almost reminds of the poster, “All I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten!”. I had to chuckle with the “check your zipper”…I was paranoid about that, then you said never mind, you won’t have time. So true, so true.

  12. Awesome! Thank you! What a great reminder for the first days of school. Sometimes, it is just about caring for kids and never about the tests.

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