Debate Magazine

The Best Advice I Ever Received as a Young Teacher

By Stevemiranda

Early in my teaching career, I ran into some trouble. I was getting interference from colleagues or administrators about things I was doing in the classroom. In essence, I was perceived to be a rogue who wasn’t following the established curriculum. Some felt I wasn’t following directions.

From my perspective, I couldn’t bring myself to teach material that didn’t inspire me. If I couldn’t get excited by it, how could I possibly get kids excited? And, some of the material was content that kids had already mastered. It didn’t make sense to me to waste kids’ time teaching them stuff that they already knew.

I was feeling a lot of pressure. By chance, I happened to run into one of the senior members of the teaching staff. He was a legend in the school. He had been there longer than anyone could remember, and was universally adored by students. As a graduate student two years earlier, I had been fortunate enough to sit in on his classes for a full week, and they were masterpieces. The guy was a genius.

I asked him for advice. He said, “I’ve heard about you. My advice is to keep doing what you’re doing. If you do your job with a complete focus on the students in your room—what’s in the best interest of your students—you can’t go wrong. Everything else will take care of itself.”

That’s what I did. I wasn’t perfect, but my proudest moments as a teacher all came as a result of ignoring all the peripheral noise and focusing on what was in the best interest of the students in my room.

* * *

This week, teachers around the country are returning from summer break, preparing their classrooms for the new year, and memorizing the names of their new students.

For many, they are also weighing the costs vs. the benefits of acquiescing to the machine. They’re considering to what extent they’re going to adhere to the mandates of distant state legislators and anonymous education officials, all of whom have never met the unique individuals that will spend the year teaching and learning with them.

My advice to you is this: do your job with a complete focus on the students in your room. Those kids don’t exist to help a politician get re-elected, or improve the school’s overall standardized test score average, or help the USA look more competitive compared to kids in Japan or Germany or wherever. Honor what’s in the best interest of your kids, in your room, at this stage in their development as human beings.

Everything else will take care of itself.

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