Good Advice From Montana Teachers
Montana teachers are excellent sources of expertise and advice. Here are some comments and tips from several Montana teachers, including Teachers of the Year and National Board Certified teachers, who have demonstrated excellence in their classrooms. We hope you will find inspiration, good ideas, and support in the words of these Montana educators.
"Develop a bag of tricks."
1. You are now a member of a proud profession that takes pride in its accomplishments. We have a history of great student achievement and support of our fellow teachers.
2. Remember that sometimes the only thing that separates hope and despair is a good
3. Develop a "bag of tricks" that consists of activities, ideas, projects, and learning games that run from a few minutes to a period or more in length. There will always be a time when you need a "filler" activity, and it is a stress reducer to have a file on
4. Plan, plan, and plan some more. Your first year at times will be overwhelming. Great planning will be your best friend.
5. The best surprise is no surprise. Try your best not to surprise your students, your parents, or your administrators.
6. Ask questions and demand answers. Find a mentor. All of us needed assistance when we started this profession. Don't be afraid to ask for help from other teachers.
7. Find a discipline plan that works for you. We all have discipline plans that are a collage of techniques that seem to work for our teaching style. A good plan doesn't happen over night, and unfortunately won't work for all children. Don't give up, and remember flexibility prevents senility.
8. Refer often to this quote by Elspeth Campbell Murphy: "If I had been a kid in my class today, would I want to come back tomorrow?"
9. Remember that most students are awesome most of the time. Most parents are grateful and supportive most of the time. Most administrators are caring and offer encouragement most of the time.
10. Join your local union. Pay scales, due process, human rights, professional development, liability insurance, and bargaining issues are important. Get involved and learn to love and experience the joy of spreading knowledge. What you do is important.
Jon Runnalls, 2003 Montana Teacher of the Year and MEA-MFT member, Helena (from his "Survival Guide for Beginning Teachers")
"Thank you for being a real hero."
You are a REAL hero! You have chosen to be a teacher in the most frightening of times. It is education that will give our children, our future, the tools to analyze, to assess, to inquire, to make decisions based upon truth and goodness, not upon fear and hatred.
It is education that will enable them to engage in collaboration, rather than warfare with nations around the globe, creating peaceful resolutions to global concerns - and all concerns are global, now. It is quality education that will give us the chance to keep this nation free.
Don't give up your willingness to fight for what is right when you close that classroom door. Stay involved. Help to keep education at the forefront of the political circle. Remember that you touch the future. Every day you have the opportunity to present a model for your students to follow so that they, as our link with the future, will know how to stand up for what is right and what is good.
Remember that, by 8:30 a.m., those little beings in front of you have already had many interactions with the world, some negative and some positive. Try to look at their world -- the one that is created within your classroom walls -- through their eyes. Look at ALL of your students with the same compassion and kindness that you would hope for if you were in their shoes.
Give to yourself, as well as to your students. Unless you take the time to care about yourself, you will eventually run out of energy to care about your students. You can arrive at school at 7:00 every morning. You can stay in your classroom every night until 5:30. You can organize and straighten and plan. You can take work home and correct and correct and correct. When you retire, do you want to be remembered as a teacher who was really well organized... or one who CARED?
In the eyes of your students, you possess more prestige than any doctor, more clout than any lawyer, and a daunting power to help or hinder their growth as productive human beings. Thank you for choosing the greatest profession on earth. Thank you for being a REAL hero!
Robin Zeal, 2001 Montana Teacher of the Year and MEA-MFT member, Whitefish
"End every day on a happy note."
I spend the first week of school having the students participate in several community building activities. This validates that everyone in the classroom is important, and it gives me an opportunity to observe and determine which students will work well together in future cooperative learning activities.
The Cooperative Classroom-Empowering Learning, by Lynda A. Baloche, is the best book I have found on cooperative activities. It is teacher friendly and can be modified for all grades and content areas.
Also, I have my students generate their own classroom rules. I begin the first day of school by reading a short story about a monster that comes to school. (Of course, the story requires audience participation.) The students then brainstorm all the things the monster did that prevented the other students from learning.
The class formulates a lengthy list, the students use the list of inappropriate behaviors to think of five rules that would maintain our learning environment and prevent monstrous behavior from occurring during the year. I post the rules generated, and I also print a copy for each student to take home to their parents the first day. I find the students are excited about the rules when they are a part of the generating process. The students also help think of the consequences for not following the rules; however, at my level I do quite a bit of guiding at this point.
Most importantly, end every day on a happy note. Find a fun book, or simply develop some closing activity that sends everyone out the door with a smile. For young students, I read from the Junie B. Jones series the last five minutes of every day. Students leave laughing...and of course, I always say, "You won't believe what Junie B. will do tomorrow!
Margaret Bowles, National Board Certified Teacher and MEA-MFT member, Townsend
"Don't try to be the students' buddy.”
Try to remember that the most important thing you can do as a teacher is to build a thirst for knowledge within your students. To do this, tap into their own curiosity and desire for knowledge and build from it.
Throughout the year, have kids come up with questions they want to explore. Then, have the students investigate the questions themselves as a class or in small groups and come up with the answers. As a follow-up, they should tell the other students in the class what they learned and how they learned it.
In building effective classroom management, the biggest mistake often made by new teachers is trying too hard to earn student affection. Don't try to be "the good buddy" to your students. They will feel uncomfortable and you will lose respect.
Be kind and friendly, and don't be afraid to get involved in the children's lives, but always in the context that you are the adult in the classroom. Maintain your control and present yourself as a mature leader of classroom learning.
Don't worry about kids not liking you at first -- over time, the personal friendships with students will follow and will be more rewarding than anything you can possibly imagine.
Marcella Burke, Retired Teacher, Helena