Last week I read a Buzzfeed article about life’s unwritten rules, which got me to thinking about the unspoken rules of teaching. Some of these rules are no-brainers, things every professional should be doing on the daily. However, some unspoken rules are dangerous, irresponsible, and every teacher should be breaking them!
4 Unspoken Rules to Follow
1. Use Office Etiquette: As anyone who works in an office knows, there are some unspoken rules about office etiquette. These rules apply to education, too!
- The Copy Machine: If the machine jams on you, fix it or contact the person in charge of fixing it. Similarly, if the machine runs out of paper or tone or staples, refill them or contact the person who is in charge of these items. Additionally, if you do not know who to contact or how to change the toner, please, please, please ask. Other teachers will respect you more for admitting you don’t know something!
- The Coffee Pot: The same rules apply here. If you drink the last pot of coffee, make a fresh pot. Be a human being.
2. Prepare for Absences: This is an unspoken rule specific to education. Being absent from school is stressful, but your absence should only be stressful for you. Students and co-workers should not suffer because you are absent. Of course, a substitute cannot replace a trained teacher, but sub plans should be detailed enough to keep students focused and on task. Similarly, sub plans should help the sub anticipate issues before they arise. To help in this pursuit, I have a free sub plans cover sheet to make leaving plans simple and efficient! Additionally, if you know you are going to be absent, it is your responsibility to print your sub plans and ready your sub tub. Please do not email co-workers at the last minute asking them to print plans and handouts. Unless an absence is unexpected, you should be handling all of this ahead of time.
3. Support Other Teachers: Not every teacher has the same procedures, policies, and expectations. However, students often time do not understand differences in teachers’ styles. For this reason, students may ask questions about another teacher’s practices or may try to vent about another teacher’s choices. Even if you disagree with another teacher, it is an unspoken rule that you should not discuss those beliefs with students. Listen to students, but then ask them some cognitive questions like “Why do you think Ms. Smith makes that choice?” or “How could you explain your concerns to Mr. Johnson?” Usually these questions prompt positive responses from students and allow them to practice empathy or to take positive steps forward. However, if those steps do not work, it is okay to simply say, “This is not an appropriate conversation. Let’s talk about something different.”
4. Celebrate Support Staff: Even if you disregard every other unspoken rule on this list, please remember to celebrate building support staff. Education is a field of unsung heroes: cafeteria works, custodians, administrative assistants, paraprofessionals, librarians, crossing guards, and bus drivers. Without support staff, schools would not function, so make sure to regularly thank support staff. Let them know how much you appreciate everything they do!
4 Unspoken Rules to Break
1. Tracking Students: An unspoken rule seems to be that students who have trouble sitting still in class must be struggling learners. Similarly, students who sit quietly in class and behave well must be honors students. These kinds of misunderstandings come from not developing meaningful relationships with students. Making decisions about students’ academic skills based on their behavior is not appropriate and is actually one aspect of education that scares me. So break this rule! Find behavior interventions that work for your students. Use data to make decisions about student placements.
2. Making Modifications: A spoken (like legally binding) rule in education is that teachers make modifications based on IEPs and 504s. However, there seems to be an unspoken rule that if a student does not have an IEP or 504, teachers do not need to make modifications. That’s nonsense! Break this rule! Differentiate for all students based on their needs. We do this when we make recommendations about free reading books. Teachers do this when we select guided reading groups. We do this when we design seating charts. Keep giving students the individual treatment they deserve!
3. Teaching with the Door Closed: Another unspoken rule in education seems to be that if the building is in chaos or is going a direction with which you don’t agree, you can simply close your door and teach. I mean…I suppose this is true. You can ignore the building happening around you, but that is not the best way to advocate for your students. Instead of closing the door and teaching, invite administrators and instructional coaches in to your classroom so they can see your concerns and your best practices in action. Instructional coaches and peers are great tools. Your door does not literally have to be open, but you cannot simply ignore the building around you. Choosing ignorance is never the right choice. Here’s an article from Cult of Pedagogy in the same vein. Break this rule, and open your door!
4. Avoiding the Teacher’s Lounge: Another unspoken rule in education is that teachers should avoid the lounge because it is a negative space full of gossip and petty behavior. While you should avoid negative behaviors, venturing in to the teacher’s lounge can also be an opportunity to connect with other teachers. Teaching can be isolating, so seek out other educators to help you grow. Focus the conversation on classroom victories, advice seeking, and positive common ground. The lounge becomes a negative place when we allow it, so take back the lounge!
What other unspoken rules should teachers follow? Which ones should we break? Let us know in the comments!