Teachers Share the Unwritten Rules of Teaching

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Most of us know that there are lots of “hidden rules” in life. Don’t peek at someone’s phone screen while they’re texting. Face forward when standing in an elevator. Don’t crowd the person in front of you in line at the grocery store. We were never taught these rules in school, but we all learned them just the same—through life experience.

Teaching is no exception. Many young teachers fresh out of school know a lot about the latest educational trends, but they still have a lot to learn about the unwritten rules of teaching. Luckily, we asked teachers to share their favorite unwritten rules with us and, as always, they came through like champs.

Unwritten Rule of Teaching #1: Be Kind

  • Sometimes you have to feed a child’s stomach before you can stimulate their mind. —Jeff W.
  • Be nice to the custodians, cafeteria staff, and secretaries. They are truly the people who run the school. —Sarah H.
  • Don’t badmouth another teacher or child in front of your students. —Ele E.
  • Treat every student like they’re your favorite. Even the ones that drive you nuts! Eventually, you’ll convince the student and yourself that you’ve loved them all along. —Linda S.
  • When things aren’t going as planned, you need to rewind and try another approach! —Tina H.
  • Teenagers: Treat them like adults; expect them to act like children. —Celeste K.
  • Don’t cook fish in the teachers’ lounge and don’t burn popcorn either! —Shannon H.
  • Think of them as yours and think of how you would want your loved ones treated, and you will serve your students better even when it gets difficult. —Tanya K.
  • You will have a student that gets on your last nerve and is never absent. Love them anyway. —Ginger J.
  • Relationships first, learning second. —Andrea E.

Unwritten Rule of Teaching #2: Stay Flexible

Choose your battles. Not every distraction needs discipline --unwritten rules of teaching

  • Whenever you think you’ve seen and heard it all, a new day will prove you wrong! —Nicole T.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you made a mistake to your students. It shows them that “failure” is part of learning. Then, try again—together. —Darla W.
  • Students being too loud? When you whisper, they get really quiet. —Susana A.
  • The most freeing statement you can say to your kids is “from now on.” You can change your class culture whenever you need to. —Karen M.
  • Choose your battles. Not every distraction needs discipline. —Kim D.
  • Stay calm and pretend it was on the lesson plan. —Janeen T.
  • Allow students to have bad days and to try again tomorrow. —Nicole M.
  • Try to show up to your students’ extra-curricular events. They notice. —Lisa V.
  • If a teacher on your team isn’t pulling their weight, is causing drama, or is doing something you don’t like, talk to them personally before going to your department head or supervisor. You don’t know what might be going on with that person, and you should give them the opportunity to explain and change before getting them in trouble. —Megan D.
  • Always have a plan, but always be ready for that plan to shift, change, or get thrown out the window at a moment’s notice. —Mary C.

Unwritten Rule of Teaching #3: Pay Attention

Form your own opinion of each student. Don't let the gossip in the teachers' lounge sway your opinion. -- unwritten rules of teaching

  • Form your own opinion of each student. Don’t let the gossip in the teachers’ lounge sway your opinion! —Jami L.
  • Don’t break the copy machine! And if you do, don’t just walk away without trying to fix it or letting someone know it’s broken. —Sarah H.
  • If a student’s behavior, appearance, or school performance changes suddenly, make sure you have your guidance counselor or school nurse check in with them. —Yvonne S.
  • There are no assigned spots in the teachers’ parking lot, but there are definitely spots that have already been claimed by other teachers! —Leah B.
  • Reflect on what’s working and what to improve upon. We are lifelong learners! —Brittany A.
  • Learn the beauty of saying “Thank you for telling me” to a kiddo. Not everything they come to you for needs your interference—they just want to be heard. —Adria R.
  • Be honest. Kids can sense a lie. —Snow R.
  • Preview all of every video before you show it! —Christine P.
  • Never back a student into a corner. Always give them a way out of a bad situation in a way that lets them save face. —Patricia M.
  • Don’t tie a kid’s shoe right after they come back from the bathroom! —Cathy W.

Unwritten Rule of Teaching #4: Set Boundaries

Tomorrow is another day. Leave yesterday's drama there and start fresh. -- unwritten rules of teaching

  • The teachers’ lounge is only as positive as you make it. Be honest with each other when it is getting to be thought tornadoes of negativity. —Angela K.
  • When a middle school girl goes to the restroom in tears and her best friend asks to go check on her, let her. But only give her five minutes. Otherwise, they’ll be gone for the rest of the period. Everyone else in class will be too distracted by what’s going on to learn much anyway, and in five minutes both girls will be back and you can continue the lesson. —Joan F.
  • Never take your personal problems into the classroom. —Tammy M.
  • Be consistent with the expectations that matter most to you. —Maura C.
  • Never take work home. Stay after school, set a quitting time, then stop and go home empty-handed when that time comes. —Sarah L.
  • Never pass up an opportunity to use the bathroom! —Bethany C.
  • Tomorrow is another day. Leave yesterday’s drama there and start fresh. —Alyssa N.
  • You will be asked to buy candy, cookies, wrapping paper, raffle tickets, and every other fundraising option. Let students know that your policy is to only buy from the first student that asks. —Debe M.
  • Don’t ask a question at the end of a meeting, especially if you can just email it. —Christian A.
  • Remember that no matter how amazing you are as a teacher, you can always be replaced at school. Your family should come first. —Jason M.

Unwritten Rule of Teaching #5: Have Fun

Be silly, be human, be compassionate. --unwritten rules of teaching

  • Smile on the first day and on every day after that. —Michael G.
  • Be silly, be human, and be compassionate. —Ben R.
  • Find out something unique about each kid and talk to them about it. —Sher D.
  • Never pass up an opportunity to genuinely laugh with your students. —Mickey M.
  • When the students aren’t listening, I’ll type the instructions so they appear on the board. As soon as students see, “Sshh, don’t tell anyone but the next thing you need to do is …” the entire class is silent and paying attention again. —Katrina G.
  • A sense of humor is a great motivator. —Bill S.
  • Wet paper towels and Band-Aids are magic. They can cure almost any student “ailment.” —Lori T.
  • Start fresh every day! Especially with the kids who were ornery the day before. —Melissa M.
  • Make every class think they are your favorite class and teaching them is the best part of your day. —Rebecca L.
  • There is always time for play-based learning and social-emotional learning. —Janet G.

What would you add to our lists? Come join the conversation on our WeAreTeachers Facebook page.

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