10 Things Smart Teachers Don't Do

Over at the Inc website, contributing editor Jeff Haden last week contributed "10 Things the Smartest People Never Do." It's business-oriented, but it actually translates well into the teaching world as well. Here's the teacherfied version of the list of things that smart people never do.

1. Thoughtlessly waste other people's time.

This doesn't just apply to our colleagues -- it applies to our students as well. I actually make this explicit promise to my students every fall, and if they demand an explanation of why something I've asked them to do is not a waste of their time, I give them one. It is easy to view our students as essentially trapped in school, and so it doesn't matter how we spend their time because they never had any control over their schedule anyway. Wrong. We're talking about minutes of fellow human beings' lives. Don't waste them.

2. Ignore people "beneath" your level.

Every beginning teacher gets that important advice-- make friends with the office secretary and the janitor for your hall. But the word "ignore" is key here. For many of our students, the worst thing about life is that they are invisible to their peers and to much of the world they encounter. Haden advises to see people, and I believe that applies to students as well. It doesn't necessarily take a huge fifteen-minute interaction with them -- just a quick exchange that translates as, "I actually see you." It is one of the most powerful things we can do.

3. Ask for too much (especially too soon).

Do not be the teacher who depends on all other teachers to take care of your business for you. Do not require everyone else on staff to cover your butt. Take care of your business and more people will be more inclined to give you more help.

4. Ignore people in genuine need.

This includes colleagues and students. This can be hard because we are always tight on time and genuine need never arrives at a convenient moment. Haden offers this observation:

Though I don't necessarily believe in karma, I do believe good things always come back to you, in the form of feeling good about yourself.

For teachers, the stakes are much higher, because we work with people who are often in genuine need.

5. Ask a question just so you can talk.

You know that guy. You hate that guy. Don't be that guy in the classroom. There is enormous power that can be unlocked in a classroom by asking real questions with the real intent to hear what students really say (see #2 and #4). Yes, that's a challenge with 6-year-olds, who have a tendency to engage in what we could call free form non-linear verbal behavior. But by the time students get to me at the high school, many of them have learned that there's no point in speaking or writing because nobody gives a shit what they think or feel.

Ask questions so your students can answer them.

6. Pull the "Do you know who I am."

Okay, of Haden's list items, I thought this was the least translatable at first. But then I had unpleasant memories of playing the authority card, where the teacher (let's call him Mr. Cartman) says, "I am the teacher and I have the power to just roll right over you. So shut up and respect my authority." Which is our version of "Do you know who I am." It's rarely very effective, particularly in the long term.

7. Forget to dial it back.

Haden's point is that quirkiness and wacky individuality can be great until they're not. And I love this line

Knowing when the situation requires you to stop justifying your words or actions with an unspoken "Hey, that's just me being me" can often be the difference between being likable and being an ass.

It's great to be that dynamic, energizing, rock star teacher (I imagine), but at some point you have to leave enough air in the room for everyone else to breathe.

8. Mistake self-deprecation for permission.

Oh, man. Learning this goes double for my students. What he means is that just because somebody makes self-deprecating jokes about being overweight, that doesn't mean it's okay for you to start calling him "Tubby." Students really need to know this about each other, but teachers also need to know it about students. Treat them like their best selves, even if they do not.

9. Humblebrag

I had a student teacher once who had one simple problem -- he didn't want to be the teacher nearly as much as he just wanted to be the smartest kid in the room. And honestly -- I think it generally helps when teachers have a little mystery about them. Be confident, but don't waste time trying your students to know how awesome you are. If there's anything awesome about you to be discovered, they'll be much more impressed if they discover it on their own (and they will set the bar low, as hen they are amazed to find you in a grocery store, buying groceries!! amazeballs!!)

10. Push your opinions.

Man, this is hard. Well, it's hard for me, anyway -- maybe you do great with it. I have a hard and fast rule for some of my writing assignments. We do a lot of practice writing argument essays, and I never assign a topic on which I think I know what the Correct Answer is, because I have to assess how well they made their case, not how well they said what I agree with. I'm a big believer that if things really are True, everyone will arrive at that conclusion in their own way at their own time -- if they pursue an open and honest path with integrity, and that means no trying to force a conclusion that hasn't arrived yet.

And this is doubly the rule outside of your content area and classroom. Respect your students' right to have their own views of things.

There you have it.

Do go ahead and check out Haden's original piece. It's a little food for thought as the year begins.

Originally posted at Curmudgucation