It wasn’t too long ago when I called myself a newbie and made tons of teaching mistakes. Still do, in fact. But there is nothing like listening to student teachers tell their most recent experiences in the classroom to make me see how far I’ve come.

“A student got sick during a test and started throwing up. I got so flustered I didn’t know what to do!”
(Do in this order: Trash can, out the door, or both, whichever is quicker. Maintain order by instructing students to stay quietly in their seats. Call school nurse. Gloves, paper towels, water bottle – and the forethought to stock them beforehand. Call janitor. Thank EVERYONE who helped, including the students for following directions. Express caring by checking up on sick student when you get a free moment in the next 24 hours.)

“Then a whole bunch of kids ran out the door to help the sick kid! I lost 3 kids all at once!”
(When its necessary to have a student helper – say, walking a sick student to the health office – name one reliable, caring kid to help and give them short, specific instructions. Also tell the helper to come directly back to the classroom when the nurse/another adult has taken charge of the sick kid.)

“And it was a test day! And these kids missed the test, and now I don’t know what to do! Should I allow them more time to take it?”
(Sick or absent students – and I consider any student who is not in my classroom during class time, for whatever reason, as ‘absent’ – should always be allowed to make-up any missed assignments. Give a clear timeline; a week is more than enough for 1 or 2 missed days. More time for anyone else depends on the situation – IEP students are always allowed more time, no matter what. I give up to 15 more minutes for chapter quizzes and tests, only for those who need it, and only on the same day as the test, usually at lunchtime. If students decline to give up 15 minutes of their lunch, then they do not get more time and I grade their paper as is. My general policy for retakes is ONLY if more than 50% of the class bombs the first test – or when it is clear that I have not done a sufficient job of teaching the material. Retakes are only given after students attend a re-teach session. Retakes cannot be on the same day as the re-teach session. Students are given a different form of the test to retake – also prepared beforehand. My district and department policy on benchmark exams clearly state the alloted time allowed, and I cannot give them more unless I receive permission to do so. In that case, the matter is out of my own hands. Still, encourage students to do as much as they can in the time they have.)

It’s strange, this mixture of pity and empathy. I strongly believe that the greatest teachers are great because they survived fires and floods and all sorts of management mistakes – certainly not unscathed, but definitely wiser and stronger and more refined as they rise out of the ashes. Such is life.

I’ve been there too – those days pop up often enough to keep me on my toes – yet I have to laugh a little as well at the naivety of these funny little greenhorns. Their stories remind me of how far I’ve come, and the excitement of the vast expanse I have yet to go.


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