3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was a Teacher
By Jim Baker
We all go through understanding our professions in a different way. Someone may learn best through observation, research, trial and error, or maybe all of the above. For me, I found that in order to learn and become a better teacher, I needed to focus on what it takes to provide better communication with my students and their parents.
I started out as a special education teacher in Waeldar, TX. Back then, I was the only special education teacher for the entire district. It was a small town to teach in, and it was easy for me to stay in touch with my class of 10 students. But after a few years, I moved to San Antonio and everything changed. My classroom size quadrupled. I had been assigned 40 students, all of whom I rarely saw. I was struggling. When it comes to students, especially those with special needs, communication is essential, and I had little to no opportunity to provide that for them or their parents.
Fast-forward to more than 30 years later. When I ended my career as a teacher, I was able to easily stay in touch with parents with a click of a button. I could also ask my students questions in class and reward them in a unique way. By using technology with an app like Bloomz, I could provide an outlet for parents to ask everyday questions, such as, "Hey, your child isn't in class today. Is everything OK?"
The best part of having this instant communication was that I didn't have to wait for a conference to catch up with my student's parents. There was daily contact between me and almost every parent. After school or even in between classes I could communicate with them at the drop of the hat about any issue. I was fortunate enough to watch my classroom blossom into a community.
For teachers who are early in their careers, here are some tips on parent-teacher communication that I've learned after almost 40 years of teaching:
- Start with an attitude of being willing to communicate with others. The first years of teaching are hard, but trust me when I say it will get better. The saying, "We've all been there," rings true for almost every educator. When it comes time to ask the hard questions on how to improve, remember that other teachers, even the ones in the same building, have experienced similar situations. Fellow teachers want to help and provide valuable feedback. Research shows that students perform better in school with parental involvement. Use those conversations with parents, too, and focus on building and maintaining those strong relationships.
- Keep an open mind! The way we teach changes because the way students learn changes. Students in the classroom are so different than when I first started my career. Don't let this be a negative thing. If you want to stay current in the classroom, go with the flow of what is happening and stay on top of current trends. When it comes to implementing new technology in the classroom, it was evident which teachers did not want anything more on their plate. Without taking on new challenges, you won't be able to grow.
- School ends at 3. Don't let your whole life be about teaching. It was so easy in the beginning for me to let my job take over a lot of my personal time. Finding a healthy way to approach a work-life balance is one of the most important things for a successful educator. A few short and sweet tips for this are: 1) don't sweat the little mistakes; 2) put aside time each week for yourself; and most importantly, 3) communicate. Talk to other educators and let them know the issues you are facing. Oftentimes, we just need someone else to listen when a problem arises.
Being an educator allowed me to learn together with my students, and to watch them grow and succeed. For me, watching my students experience breakthrough moments made my career more than worth it. Even something we use every day, such as our cell phones, can have a life-changing impact on parent-teacher communication. In the course of my career, I went from almost zero communication with parents between conferences, to capturing and sharing everyday moments of my students' learning in the classroom with parents on a daily basis. If we had a special event, I posted links to pictures and videos as soon as I could. The students' parents always knew exactly what was going on with our class, and most importantly with their children. It was almost as if the parents were right there, experiencing every day with us.
Jim Baker retired from teaching in June of 2017 after a career of 37 years. He spent his first 17 years teaching special education. In the fall of 1998, he changed paths and accepted a role as a campus instructional technologist at a brand new school. When that position was phased out, he returned to special education for his last two years.