70 Practical Things Every Teacher Should Know


70 Practical Things Every Teacher Should Know

by Terry Heick

Recently I found out that my best friend is in school to become a teacher.

David (I call him Gravy. Or Big Bear. Long story.) kept this one quiet–had no idea until he was already in school and taking classes. To be fair, we’re not 17 anymore. I’ve known him for 30 years, and it’s easier to hang out at 15 than 40. Life slides right on by.

This is a second (or third) career for him having spent most of his life doing craftsmanship of various kinds. He told me some of the things they’re studying in his teacher prep program, and he asked me if I thought it was valuable. Certainly having a solid base in theory makes sense, but the interviews he was doing with educators–“Why did you become a teacher?”–seemed only vaguely useful to respond to the demands of his newly-chosen craft.

In response, I created a list of random things teachers have to know in order to survive. I’ve written lists like this before, as well as lessons on teacher survival. I’ve written about How To Burn Yourself Out As A Teacher. Some of these ideas overlap, but the big idea of this list is to show the wide range of things teachers have to know that are actually practical. Useful. A daily matter of survival. The hammers and nails and screwdrivers and saws and ladders of teaching.

So, to the list. I didn’t get too carried away with it–or no more than I absolutely had to. I tried to minimize the talk about wisdom and students-as-human-beings, and thought, and learning models, and compelling technology use, and play, and self-direction, and inquiry. The rule here was day-to-day practicality.

There are 70. Why 70? I don’t know. I had 40 and they kept coming. I stopped at 68, but then had two more. So it’s 70. That may be too many. That in and of itself may reduce the practicality of this list. Maybe numbering things instead of waxing on poetic will help there. I may add more. Add yours to the comments below.

Hope this helps, Gravy.

70 Practical Things Every Teacher Should Know

  1. How to manage their time with military-like precision
  2. The difference between complex, rigorous, and just plain hard
  3. How to deliver instruction to students from a wide range of religious, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds
  4. How to authenticate and contextualize academic content for students
  5. The difference between a check for understanding, a quiz, and a test–and how to create and implement each
  6. How to use class walls and space effectively; how to organize and optimize digital and physical learning spaces
  7. How to deliver lessons and activities from units that are based on a scope and sequence or pacing guide
  8. The purpose of assessment
  9. How to fake it sometimes (‘fake it’ that you gave the probe, watched the video, read the email, etc.)
  10. How to promote ideal behaviors in students
  11. How to get out of the students’ way once they’ve ‘got it’
  12. That students come to school for different reasons and to learn to leverage each
  13. How to collect money from students (and how to respond when a student doesn’t have any)
  14. How to self-direct your own professional development as a teacher
  15. How to best spend the 1-2 planning periods a week they’ll actually get
  16. Where your mailbox is and when to send attendance and to whom
  17. How to differentiate otherwise standardized content based on readiness or interest
  18. How to work with/on multiple committees, teams, and related groups
  19. How to bypass district internet filters, if only so you know how the students will do it
  20. That they’ll likely have to sponsor and support one or more extra-curricular activities
  21. How to master and maintain software for class rosters, grading, parent communication, etc.
  22. Where teaching has been, where it is, and where it’s going
  23. How to wash their hands
  24. How to know when students are working too hard or are doing ‘too much’
  25. That every student has something really, really special in them
  26. The difference between teaching, covering, and learning
  27. When to ignore something and when to respond (a misbehavior, a lack of progress, etc.)
  28. That your time with a child is just a blink of an eye in the span of their life
  29. What it means to understand something
  30. How to see students rather than a ‘class’
  31. That students love the water fountain so very much
  32. When during the day to make copies, or how to go paperless (and how to fix a broken copier)
  33. Which meetings you can skip, and which you can’t
  34. How to use technology better than the students
  35. When to say no and how to do so elegantly
  36. What to do when you suspect a child is being abused at home, or bullied in school or online
  37. Who to go to for what in your school
  38. How not to get caught sitting at your desk by the administrators
  39. How to ‘submit grades’ when ‘grades are due’
  40. How to organize physical and digital documents
  41. That you can’t save them all but that can’t stop you from trying
  42. How to build a compelling classroom library (and this goes for any content area or grade level)
  43. How to balance content knowledge with knowledge of learning models, instructional strategies, and student needs and backgrounds
  44. How to really, truly evaluate assessment data
  45. How to capture a child’s imagination
  46. When a student is about to puke
  47. How to help parents and families understand and support
  48. How to motivate students like it’s your job, because it kind of is
  49. How important it is to not to get on the librarian’s bad side
  50. How to have a short memory for student mistakes
  51. How to give literacy probes and other “non-content”-based assessment
  52. How to work with resource teachers to meet IEP and 504 needs
  53. How to hide in their room so they can actually get something done
  54. What they can say, in person and online, that will get them fired
  55. How to meet IEP and 504 needs without a resource teacher
  56. How to use the best parts of their personality to craft a teacher voice and personality that works
  57. How to demonstrate leadership within team and department activities and initiatives
  58. How to keep students safe while making sure each student is heard and related to
  59. To be aware of and respond to all student medical conditions
  60. How to do the dog-and-pony show (in case they want to)
  61. Dozens of team-building exercises
  62. How to entertain students
  63. The best ways to get a busy, loud, disruptive, or otherwise inattentive classroom’s attention
  64. How to begin, end, and dismiss class
  65. How to eat fast
  66. How to coordinate and execute a field trip
  67. How to get the class to school activities (gym, assemblies, library, cafeteria, etc.) efficiently
  68. How to teach every second of every day with the awareness that a single word, gesture, or missed connection can stay with a student forever
  69. How to be accountable to students, colleagues, administrators, media, communities and other sources of what is at best, well-intentioned support and, and is in worst cases, pressure
  70. How to reflect on and refine one’s view of one’s self as a growing educator

Dear David: Here Are 70 Practical Things Every Teacher Should Know