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20 Tips for Teaching Without Losing Your Mind | Education to the Core

…often. If I’m being honest, you’re going to lose your mind. If you’re a teacher, you will lose it, probably more than you’d like to admit. You’ll also lose your coffee, keys, clipboard, teaching manual, and maybe shoes (Yep, I lost my shoes once during my planning period.). With that being said, I’ve compiled a list of 20 Tips for Teaching Without Losing Your Mind. These are TRIED and TRUE from years in the classroom. You’re bound to have great days and lack-luster ones, but read on for practical tips you can start NOW. If I had to choose just 5 for you to read, go check out tips for teaching #1, #6, #10, #14, and #19!

Tips for Teaching 1- Teach Expectations

What do you do the first two weeks of school? If your first answer isn’t “teach expectations”, it should be. Unless you teach kindergarten, then it’s definitely making sure they all get home on the first day. Followed by teaching expectations. 😜 Making sure your students know what you expect from them is key to a well-functioning classroom. Do you expect them to raise their hands to ask to use the bathroom? Then you better model it, have them practice, and repeat as necessary until it’s routine. 

2- Don’t Grade Everything

Yep, I said it. DO NOT GRADE EVERYTHING! Better yet, grab yourself a good set of stamps (like these). This way, if it’s for practice, slap a cute stamp on it and send it home. Not everything has to be graded. Follow your district’s guidelines on what NEEDS to be in the grade book, but don’t wear yourself out with unnecessary grading. 

3- Expect the Unexpected

Have an AMAZING lesson planned for math? Expect a fire drill. Finally, have an empty planning period to make copies? Nope. Surprise assembly. It’s inevitable. Something is going to happen to COMPLETELY throw off your day. Hear me out, take a few deep breaths, and roll with it. It is okay! If you let it bother you, it will bother your students. They can sense your frustration. 

4- Advocate for Yourself

Your principal makes an unannounced visit and the lesson tanks. Like, really tanks. I’m talking, limited engagement, blank stares, and maybe even a tantrum thrown. What should you do? Send your admin an email and request they stop in another time to see a different lesson. Be an advocate for yourself! You know you’re a good teacher. Not every lesson is going to go how you intended, and that’s OKAY. Most admins are very accommodating and will appreciate your willingness to showcase your skills. 

Tips for Teaching 5- Enjoy Your Weekend

Coming from someone who struggles with this, I encourage you to ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND. You have two days to rest from a very busy week. I know you have lessons to plan and activities to grade, but try your hardest to set aside time to not think about school on the weekends. This might mean allotting 30 min every afternoon M-F to work on the next week’s plans or get one assignment graded before you leave for the day. Try it. 

6 – Put Together your Sub Tub

I mean it. You will use it, I promise, and most districts now are requiring plans to be prepared prior to the start of the school year. My recommendation, have at least five days of EASY to follow, LOW prep, REVIEW focused activities put together. Make sure you’ve got the class list (I know it changes but at least a tentative one), schedule, routines/procedures, and supply locations all included. If there’s important student info, have that in there as well.

7- Take that Personal Day

DO IT. Your students will survive one day. Go out to lunch, catch up on some grading, or just take a long, hot bath while eating some chocolate cake. I only say it because I’ve done it. Zero regrets. 

8- Remember…(we don’t know their home lives)

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “kids are resilient.” Well, they are but at the same time, they’re kids with big emotions. We don’t know what they go through at home and honestly, if we did know, it would break our hearts. They may come to school carrying more baggage than what’s physically in their bookbags. If you want to meet their social-emotional needs, check the many SEL resources out there, including ETTC’s newest resource HERE.

Tips for Teaching 9- Teach Expectations AGAIN

Yes, again. Had a long weekend? Better review/model expectations. Just came back from Fall break or Winter break? Go over expectations, AGAIN. Do you need reminders? (I’m looking at you…teacher who always forgets to submit attendance.) We need reminders, as do our students. Take a day or two and model/practice expectations. Your behavior management plan will thank you.

10- Let It Out!

As teachers, we go through A LOT! Sometimes we are emotional punching bags. Other times we’re just so overwhelmed with our NEVER ENDING to-do lists that we feel like we’re going to explode. It is necessary that we are able to express our thoughts/feelings. This may mean talking to your spouse, friend, therapist, or simply journaling. I love journaling and I enjoy looking back through my journals to see the different seasons of life. You’ll be amazed how much better you feel by talking or writing it out. Here’s a couple of my personal favorites when it comes to journaling:

Lined Journal (lots of color options)

Blessings Journal (religious)

There is something about fresh air and a light breeze that makes everything seem right in the world. If your students are getting antsy during the day, try relocating outside for the next activity. Maybe end a lesson early (gasp!) and take a walk outside. Better yet, grab some flashcards, chalk, and do some math review on the sidewalk. The kids will love it and it gives everyone a much-needed break from their seats. 

Tips for Teaching 12- Prep for Documentation

I feel like there should be some Jaws theme music playing…dun dun, dun dun, dun dun. “You need documentation.” The second most terrifying phrase aside from “Call them.” (That’s a whole other blog on Parent Communication!) Documenting is needed for multiple scenarios so why not get ahead of the game and prep for it! Whether it’s for Data Tracking, IEP Accommodations, or Behavior Goals, be prepared by having your “how” and “what” ready to go! I’ve linked my favorite documentation resources above!

13- Assume the BEST

Also known as, “Give them a fresh start!”

Ever had “that student”? You know the one I’m talking about…as does every teacher out there. Just because every teacher knows of them, you owe it to yourself and to that student, to give them a FRESH START! If you choose to go in with a negative attitude because of what others said, then it will surely NOT end well. BUT (insert BIG BUT), if you choose to be open-minded and assume the BEST, you may be surprised. Give them a chance, wouldn’t you want a fresh start if it were you?

14- Make Connections

Have you met your office staff yet? What about your school custodians? Over the course of my teaching career, there is one thing I’ve learned, your support staff is CRUCIAL to an effective school year. I encourage you to go out of your way to meet them, get to know them, and include them in your everyday conversations. In time, when you need them (and this is inevitable), they’ll have your back, 100%! I’ve been blessed to work with some of the most amazing support staff that have made my year SO. MUCH. BETTER. 

Tips for Teaching 15- Fake It Until You Make It

Some days will suck. Yep, I said it. Here are a few things to have on hand to help you “Fake it until you make it”:

Why these items? Each one has the ability to bring a little bit of joy on a day that SUCKS. Whether it’s an observation that tanked, a disheartening message from a parent, struggles at home, or you’re at work not feeling 100% (we’ve ALL been there), the aforementioned list is sure to give you that little nudge to fake it until the day is done. You can do it! 

 16- Bulk Cleaning Supplies

Even prior to Covid-19, I kept a stash of disinfectant wipes, hanitizer (Anyone knows what that is?), Febreeze (ever smelled a group of kids after outside P.E.), and multipurpose spray, in my teaching closet. Are you a newbie just starting out? Stop by your local shopping center and pick up one or two items with every trip you make. Some years we were provided with cleaning supplies, but that isn’t the case everywhere nor is it guaranteed, so I always felt better having a small stash.

17- Find a Hobby

…Lobby. Just kidding, I’m not referring to weekly trips to Hobby Lobby. Although, it’s not a terrible idea! Teaching is going to take up the majority of your time. However, make sure you still find time to do other things for “you.” You’ll need to have that mental separation from time to time so you don’t become bogged down with the weight teaching can bring. Run, draw, paint, bake, hike, swim, read, workout, anything to get your mind off your classroom and remind you who you are as an individual. 

18- Take your Vitamins

Especially if you are a first-year teacher!! If this is your first year teaching, start taking those vitamins now. LOL Kids are little germ magnets and will share them with their favorite human EVER, their teacher! Vitamin C, probiotics, multivitamins, ask your healthcare provider for recommendations, and start now. 

Tips for Teaching 19- Give yourself some GRACE

You’re going to mess up. It’s bound to happen, A LOT. That’s okay! It doesn’t mean you are a bad teacher. It means you have room to grow, learn, and thrive as an educator. So, give yourself GRACE and remember you are:

Gifted with the love of teaching!

Ready to take on each day!

Always thinking about how to best serve your students!

Caring and empathetic towards their needs!

Exceptional in every way!

20- Get a Good Planner

Hard copy or digital, doesn’t matter. Just get one. I am a writer and have to jot EVERYTHING down. Without my planner, I would lose track of all my information! Over the years I’ve tried out a few, here are some of my favorites:

Lakeshore (simple yet EFFECTIVE and currently in my online shopping cart)

Digital Planner from TpT 

My goal is that you’ll find JOY in reading these tips and be able to IMPLEMENT at least 3-5 this year to help make your school year more enjoyable. Which ones did you find most helpful? Let me know in the comments below or if you have a tip, share it with us! We love reading your tips/tricks as well! 

Written by – Heather Wagoner

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