Survival Guide for the 30-Year Teacher

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photo credit: Marco From Houston via photopin cc
photo credit: Marco From Houston via photopin cc

If you’ve taught 29 years, you may scoff at the title of this blog post. “Why would I need a survival guide?” many 30-year teachers would likely bark, at the mere suggestion that they read such a treatise.

While a host of three-decade veterans could certainly write the book on successful teaching, most, while scared to admit it, are laying low, avoiding problem students, and nosey principals, while they await the end of one last school year, so they can jet off to that retirement villa in Coral Gables.

It doesn’t matter if you think the jokes are stupid or if the music makes your ears bleed, the students will think you are cool and this, in turn, will make class fun.

Don’t get me wrong, after more than 5,000 days in the classroom every teacher deserves only the best possible retirement. Before buying that sports car or stretching out poolside, though, why not make the most of those final days–that is, if year 30 does turn out to be your last. This brief survival guide might just make your 30th year in the classroom your best one yet.

How to survive year 30 in the classroom

Change your tactics

Most longtime educators are eager to escape the rigors of teaching because they are bogged down by an archaic routine that gives them nothing to look forward to and bores their students. It’s time to shake things up. This is no time for trepidation; throw caution to the wind. Follow these steps:

  • Throw out textbooks and workbooks. Find new materials online and in the app store. Allow students to help, or take suggestions from progressive teachers, who engage students with digital learning opportunities (don’t worry, they’ll respect a veteran who is still wants to improve, and they’ll want to learn from you too).
  • Eliminate all rules and consequences. Create a class built on mutual respect. Allow gum, water, and even a little chaos in your class. Sound crazy? Good, embrace the crazy.
  • Mix things up. Boring routine is one of the reasons you’re longing for the beach house. Abolish everything routine about your classroom. If you are used to starting with bell work, eliminate bell work. Start with small group discussion. Begin with a quote of the day. Anything that excites you or your kids.
  • Tell jokes and play music. It doesn’t matter if you’re not funny. Put a jokes app on your iPhone, along with a few Usher tunes (or whatever else the kids are listening to these days). It doesn’t matter if you think the jokes are stupid or if the music makes your ears bleed, the students will think you are cool and this, in turn, will make class fun. And, dammit, year 30 should be nothing if it’s not fun!

Stop assigning homework

Think back for a moment about the piles of homework you’ve assigned and graded over your last 29 years. Not only is homework not fun for the student or the teacher, it doesn’t contribute to learning. Why spend countless hours in your 30th year on something you and your students hate, especially when it has no connection to achievement? With more engaging activities in class, along with all of the great music and jokes, your students will work more efficiently than ever, and homework will be obsolete.

Say No to test preparation

There is good research negating test preparation as a means for improving test scores (Role Reversal, ASCD, 2013). Still, most teachers continue to hammer their students relentlessly with practice tests, often because administrators mandate regular tests. You are a 30-year veteran teacher, who knows what’s best for your students. If anyone can stand up for the rights of kids, it’s you. Tell your principal, you have better things to do in your classroom than bore your students with standardized test practice. Explain that when the real test rolls around, your kids will be more than prepared. Not many principals will have the guts to stand up to a brazen veteran like you.

Put on some jeans

You’ve spent 29 years dressing the part of a professional. There’s nothing wrong with relaxing, and there’s no reason you can’t be just as effective in those old dungarees as you are in slacks or a skirt. You’re a 30-year teacher. You deserve some comfort.

Use this survival guide, and year 30 could be the best of your career. Who knows? After this, you might decide to stick around for another 30 years; well, at least another five.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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