Guiding Principles for New Teachers

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I recently began teaching two new “methods” classes for preservice educators after a teacher-education hiatus of about a decade. While creating my syllabi, I decided to express some of the principles that I believe should guide excellent teaching. Here is that list of guiding principles.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Teaching matters

Teaching is not just a job. We are not linoleum salespeople. Our actions affect the lives of children and ultimately the fate of society. It would be great to see some fire in your belly.

Teaching is an art and a science

Good teachers possess all of the following characteristics:

  • · Content and skill expertise
  • · Pedagogical technique
  • · Imagination
  • · Curiosity
  • · Empathy
  • · Historical perspective
  • · Experience
  • · Continuous growth
  • · Honesty
  • · Thoughtfulness
  • · Collegiality
  • · Flexibility
  • · Humility
  • · Humor
  • · Joy
  • · Reflective ability
  • · Capacity for self-correction

Knowledge is the consequence of experience

We learn by doing. Active enthusiastic participation and a willingness to take risks are key. We read because it is pleasurable or informative, not because it is assigned. We seek access to expertise. We go to lectures, conferences, workshops, concerts, art exhibitions and read the news. We learn by sharing stories.

Learning is natural

Coercion, tricks and dishonesty are not required if you believe that humans want to learn, are capable of learning and learn constantly as a natural process.

Learning is social

We learn by talking, listening, mentoring, assisting and collaborating. We are each responsible for contributing to each other’s learning, for being candid and for sharing resources.

Great teachers make memories

Teachers are not remembered for their test-preparation or for requiring that students use all 37 vocabulary words in a sentence. Great teachers are remembered for the learning environments they create and for the projects they support.

Less us, more them

Schools are not for the benefit of adults. The more agency that can be shifted to the learner, the greater the potential exists for the construction of powerful ideas.

Less is more

It is possible to learn more by focusing on fewer topics and more connections.

School is not always the solution

Sometimes school is the problem. Teachers must be aware of the consequences of their actions.

Teaching is not about dominance and control

Master teachers treat students with respect and collegiality. They strive to reduce the level of antagonism between adults and children. They do not enact or enforce arbitrary rules. Their classrooms are models of democracy.

Things need not be as they seem

Your personal educational experience may not have been the ideal. We can do the right thing and create more productive contexts for learning. Conventional wisdom must be challenged. Miseducative educational practices must be avoided. Skepticism is prized.

Make decisions based on evidence

Your opinions or beliefs may be fascinating, but educational practices must be based on evidence or valid pre-existing theories.

The Nuremberg Defense is unacceptable

It is deeply immoral to base your actions on the excuse, “I am just following orders.”

This is 2009!

Modern educators check their email regularly, participate in online discussions, share resources and “Google” terms they do not understand. Modern educators embrace opportunities to use technology to enhance student-learning experiences.

Comments

5 Responses to “Guiding Principles for New Teachers”
  1. angie says:

    How true! I wish many experienced teachers need to read this article. How about one for parents?

  2. Mark Scott says:

    I have one rule in my classroom.

    “You can’t do anything that will get me in trouble”

    Students immediately understand and instantly see me as a person not as a control freak.

  3. Bob Irving says:

    Not just for new teachers! I’ve been at this about 30 years, and still need reminding. A great, humane approach to teaching. I love it.

  4. Jackson West says:

    This is an excellent article. These principles should be deemed necessary for all educators.

  5. I found my way to your blog after reading some of your comments on Will Richardson’s blog re Twitter and Iran.
    I think your Guiding Principals are sound for both new and veteran teachers. I have been in teaching off and on for 40 years (with time off to raise my two sons). I especially related to your last point:

    This is 2009!

    Modern educators check their email regularly, participate in online discussions, share resources and “Google” terms they do not understand. Modern educators embrace opportunities to use technology to enhance student-learning experiences.

    This is exactly what I’ve been trying to do for the past few months (well, the use of technology for years), and I’ve been trying to bring other teachers along with me on the ride. Developing one’s own personal learning network has never been easier -what wonderful professional development is there at the click of the mouse (or touchpad or touchscreen or whatever,) It’s just finding the time and keeping it all straight that is challenging.