The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Seven practical tips to help teachers get through their day

(By Charles Rex Arbogast/ AP)

Heather Wheat is a veteran high school English teacher in Colorado who authors a blog called “wanderingbarkhumanities” for which she writes about teaching and learning. Here, she offers seven practical tips for teachers to help them get through their days — advice that may not be learned in teacher training courses.  Wheat writes that these tips have “saved” her “literally or figuratively” for the last seven years. Here they are:

1) Always have a hiding spot for emergency deodorant

You WILL, at least once (if not 50 times), have that moment where you’ve raised your arm to point at the board or a reminder, and you will think, even as you speak to students, “Wait…did I put deodorant on today?” Most often, the answer is “No,” because you were too caught up in reorganizing the day’s lesson plans in your head as you were getting ready. The Target travel section has mini deodorants. They have saved my life—and probably my students’ perception of me—on more than one occasion.

2) Always have a drawer full of ready-to-eat or easy-to-fix food.
Make sure it’s a big one. You’ll forget your lunch. You won’t have time to go out. Kind bars, granola, and those soup-in-a-box or lentils-in-a-bag things will be your best friend. Also, never run out. Then you’ll be hungry (maybe even hangry) while trying to grade papers or teach a class. You don’t want that — and neither do your students.

3) Always have a spare hoodie, cardigan, and/or T-shirt tucked away somewhere.
School buildings are notorious for their varying temperatures. My room, for instance, is almost always cool, so I always have a cardigan or hoodie. My friend’s room is almost always hot. However, when it starts to warm up, my room is cool in the morning and a sauna in the afternoon (until they switch over to air conditioning, which takes a while). So as an addendum to the original point, I’ll add: Dress in layers. Also, the spare T-shirt comes in handy when you’re eating lunch while grading papers, and miss your mouth, and spill whatever you’re eating on your shirt. That, like the deodorant scenario above, will always happen.

4) Be prepared to not take yourself too seriously ever again.
I learned, very early on, that kids notice everything. EVERY. THING. When I first started teaching, I would get flustered and turn red quite often for a variety of reasons (one of which is listed below). Slowly, I learned to laugh at myself a little. When a student recently pointed out a smudge of chocolate on my face, because I’d eaten a Kind bar while amending lesson plans for the afternoon, I didn’t even blink. I just said, “Where is it?” and then wiped it off as the whole class laughed. The entire “incident” lasted no more than 20 seconds. Early in my teaching career, I would’ve been mortified. But really, I think I’m a better person overall because I’ve learned to laugh off the little things, too. Which brings me to…

5) Know that you will have to loosen up a little in your expectations of perfection.
When I was still figuring out how everything worked, or how everything didn’t work (I’m looking at you, technology in the classroom!), I would get flustered and turn red because I was embarrassed at my inability to make everything perfect all the time. In teaching, nothing is ever perfect. When you have a technology-dependent lesson planned, something will likely go wrong. When you plan to take kids to a computer lab, someone might have double-booked it by accident.

The above statement goes for you expecting perfection of yourself, and of your students, by the way. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “perfect” teacher—we all work constantly to improve our knowledge, and our practice and methods. We strive for awesomeness, sure. We strive to help our students realize their potential and grow. Part of that process, though, is realizing, accepting, and maybe even discussing imperfections. Flaws are fine. Pretending that we don’t have any is not. There is no such thing, either, as a perfect student. Do students produce amazing essays I can use as models? Of course! Are there still flaws in those essays, and did that student show up twenty minutes late to class a couple of days? Of course. Being a teacher is about wanting, encouraging, and working toward growth. Not perfection.

6) Be prepared and plan ahead, but be prepared to change plans.
I am a long-term planner. I plan things WAY in advance on my teaching calendar because I like to have a “big picture” view of what my units and semesters will look like. But there are always testing days, assemblies, field trips, and various other events that can—and will—change those plans. The benefit of planning ahead, for me, is that I have the flexibility to change those plans. Also, including a “flex day” in all long-term planning is a good idea. That extra day gives wiggle room to allow for whatever may happen.

7) Be prepared to compromise.
As a teacher, you will have to make many, many compromises. Many. (Did I say many? Just checking) The easy ones are about the copy machine, scheduling, and when you are able to use computer carts or other such resources. It’s a part of the deal. You’ll also make compromises with students (sometimes). They’re human, you’re human. Humans make mistakes. It’s part of the learning process. There are other compromises you will have to make (think: testing, the politics of teaching, etc.), but those are things to discuss at a different time.

This is nowhere near a complete list. Feel free to comment and add your life-saving teacher tips.

(Correction: Introduction in an earlier version misspelled teacher’s name. It is now correct.)