Patti RasmussenThe SignalPauline HarteRichard RiouxTim WhyteLeon Worden

Retirees give some good educational advice

Patti Rasmussen · September 6, 1997

Some of us may feel that summer is either too long or way to short, but now that all the schools are back in session, we parents are feeling a little like that guy on the Staples commercial.

The teachers have been planning for the first day of school for a long time. The anticipation and excitement that our students feel, believe it or not, is the same for them. (I had one first grade teacher tell me at Pasta Grill last week that when she starts having her "classroom" dreams, she knows school is right around the corner.)

To help with the transition to a new school year, the 50,000-member California Retired Teachers Association has complied the top 10 tips for returning teachers. Mike Shuman, all-around great guy and a retired junior high school principal since 1986, thinks this is the best top-10 list he has seen. Some educators might see themselves in here.

  1. Write a note to your students. As soon as you get your class roster, send a note to all of them welcoming them to your class and outlining some activities that the year will bring. Include information to parents about your availability.

  2. Get the classroom ready. A bright, inviting setting is fundamental to a positive learning experience. When the students walk in on the first day, they should see interesting bulletin boards and colorful displays.

  3. Learn every student's name - by noon. The one unique thing about every student is his or her name. Shy students may blossom and potentially unruly children may behave if you call them by name. If you're not sure how to pronounce someone's name, ask. Then write it down phonetically so that you will never mispronounce it.

  4. Don't just be prepared; over-prepare. Few things can bring chaos to the classroom as quickly as trying to fill empty time, such as when students complete that two-hour assignment in 15 minutes.

  5. Learn to lip read. Every classroom has its inveterate hand-raisers. Those students are a blessing, but remember the shy students who also know the answers. Often, they will mouth the correct responses. If you learn a little lip reading, you can catch them being correct and call on them.

  6. Establish rules the first day. Most students desire clear, consistent limits. Set the rules the first day -- let the students help you -- and live by them all year. Discipline is important. Unless there is physical violence, infractions should be handled in the classroom, not the principal's office.

  7. Return work quickly. Tests should be returned the very next day or they lose their instructional value. Seeing test results helps students track their own progress and be motivated to do better.

  8. Enlist a support network. Many of your students' parents will be eager to help you out. Don't be shy in recruiting their assistance. They can sort a week's worth of papers, put up bulletin boards, be responsible for organizing field trips -- all you have to do is ask.

  9. Understand that your work won't always be appreciated. All the time and effort you put into helping Johnny or Jane learn to read or master a math concept will usually be seen as the child's achievement. Learn to take silent pride in the fact that you are often just as responsible for academic achievement as the child.

  10. Recognize that teaching isn't a job, it's a calling. The pay's not the greatest, the hours can be demanding, and the stress can border on overwhelming. Nonetheless, most teachers can't wait to get back into the classroom. If you don't look forward to each day's work, find another career.

Boy, those educators. They never stop teaching, even to each other.

There is a local chapter of the Retired Teachers Association that meets four times a year. The association is part social, part activist as the retirees enjoy each other's company while keeping an eye on legislation regarding retired teachers and education in general. President Olive Bruins welcomes all retirees to join them. Please give her a call at (805) 251-0428 if you would like any information. I will be at their October meeting and hope to see some familiar faces.

In the meantime, from a mother of four boys who have had some great teachers, thanks for all the encouragement you have given. I truly believe there is that one teacher out there who will connect with each one of our children.

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Patti Rasmussen's commentaries appear in The Signal on Saturdays.

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