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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Twenty-Eight Educators Share Their Best Teaching Advice

By Larry Ferlazzo — April 04, 2021 6 min read
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(This is the final post in a four-part series. You can see Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

In 300 words or less, what is the most important teaching advice that you have either received or given?

Part One‘s guests were Chelonda Seroyer, Jenny Vo, PJ Caposey, Emily Golightly, Cindy Garcia, Mary K. Tedrow, Dr. Sawsan Jaber, and Aubrey Yeh. Chelonda, Jenny, PJ, and Emily were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Part Two‘s contributors were Keisha Rembert, Leah B. Michaels, Luiza Mureseanu, Jenny Edwards, Ph.D., Dr. Kulvarn Atwal, Sarah Brown, and Gretchen Bernabei.

In Part Three, Tara Bogozan, Ryan Huels, Laura Robb, Vernon Wright, Dr. Sarah Capello, and Dr. Karen Burke shared their knowledge.

Today, Rachelle Dene Poth, Juliana Bondor, and many other educators “wrap up” this series.

‘Learn About the Students’

Rachelle Dene Poth is a foreign-language and STEAM teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, Pa. She is also an attorney, ed-tech consultant, and the author of In Other Words: Quotes that Push Our Thinking, The Future is Now, Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU and Chart A New Course. Follow her on Twitter at @Rdene915:

The most important advice that I ever received and wish that I had followed in my early years of teaching was to learn about the students. For the first 10 years of my career, I focused more on covering the content, starting on day one of each new school year, the exact same way. It began with a brief overview of class rules and procedures and led right into a lesson or activity to start the year.

I have thought back to that advice many times over the years, wishing that I had listened to it back then. The best I can do now is to offer that same advice and to share my experience of how focusing on building those relationships from the beginning has made a tremendous difference in my classroom and in my life.

Now, when I am asked for advice for new teachers or any teacher, it is always this: Focus on the power of relationships. The content can wait, classroom procedures can wait, but building relationships cannot. Make time every day to interact with each student. Be there to welcome students to your classroom, greet all students in the hallways of your school, and be intentional about getting to know each student. The slightest interactions can make the biggest impact in a student’s life and in our lives, too. Start tomorrow by being present and make time for those interactions every single day. Relationships First, Relationships Always.


‘Assuming the Best’

Juliana Bondor grew up in Holland Township, N.J., and studied philosophy and art at Syracuse University. Juliana has worked at both public and private schools, and she is currently enjoying her job as a mentor teacher at The Windward School in White Plains, N.Y.:

Before becoming a teacher, I worked for a couple years as a boatbuilder and carpenter. While studying my craft under the direction of Bobby Ives, a master boatbuilder, pastor, and founder of The Carpenter’s Boat Shop, I received some advice from him that has proven extremely helpful. “Assume that everyone is trying their best, given their circumstances.”

As a teacher, I hope to bring out the best in my students and help them achieve their highest potential, despite the setbacks they have encountered. I have found that “assuming the best” has helped me to build strong relationships with children who desperately need a supportive adult in their corner.

Since it is impossible for anyone to completely see, know, and understand others’ circumstances, “assuming the best” can help provide a compassionate way to connect with others whose behavior may be challenging. By assuming that our students are trying their best and praising them for their hard work, we can help cultivate the grit and resilience our students innately possess.


Contributions From Readers

Riina Hirsch:

Any day you do NO harm is a good day. Everything else is just gravy.

Not quite literally true but definitely helped me gain confidence & feel comfortable trying new things (that didn’t always work).

Kathie Kienzle Marshall:

As a first-year teacher just setting up my classroom, my AP pointed to a box of district-created reading worksheets I dragged in and said, “That stuff is cr-p. Make your own.” Those words freed me to become a confident seeker and creator of engaging curriculum.

Al Tucker:

It’s not about you—truer words were never spoken. It’s about them—make sure they feel that.

Cheryl Renee:

Take care of yourself first ... then you’ll be able to take care of others ... and the order is you, family, then work.

Bill Ivey:

Mark Springer: Students *are* amazing every day. Never hesitate to celebrate that. (paraphrase)

Phil Brann:

Never cross the principal’s secretary or the custodian.

Jeana Schieffer:

If you feel frustrated because the students aren’t listening, stop, take a deep breath, then laugh out loud. Kids will stop and listen better than if you yell for attention.

David Deubelbeiss:

That the old adage “be yourself” won’t get most very far in the classroom and is a trite myth. That teaching IS a role and acting. That you have to put on a mask, play a kind of role that will get the most out of students. Great teachers excel at dressing in a dramatic persona.

Amy Halsall:

Love the kids. Build a relationship with them, and almost everything else falls into place.

Hellen Harvey:

Teach well, ignore the testing mania.

Pamela Broussard:

1) In college I was told: Be friends with the secretary, custodians, and librarians. They will save you and help you more than you can ever imagine. So true! 2) Build relationships with the students. 3) And the advice I wish someone would have given me was, “There are all types of great teachers. It is OK if you are not a “Type A” type of teacher. Use your gifts/strengths to be your best type of you. ... If we all bring our gifts to the table and maximize them, we can all be great teachers differently.

Mary Wilfahrt:

Your current placement may not be the best fit, but there is one out there.

Thanks to Rachelle, Juliana, and all the many other educators for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones won’t be available until February). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first nine years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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