Teaching Is a One at a Time Career

by | Sep 27, 2020 | Positivity & Inspiration

One day at a time; One student at a time; One success at a time

By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder

Teaching is a one at a time career. It’s easy to get caught up in negativity, poor behavior, piles of papers and endless meetings. When we are drained at the end of the day, it is hard to put the brighter spots of the day into perspective. However, learning to take everything one at time is the key to focusing on the positive.

One day at a time

Teachers can only deal with what is directly in front of them. While we have to plan for a year, a semester, a month, a unit, a week, the only thing that matters is the day in front of you. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the big plan and forget the moment right in front of you. Have you planned for today? 

A solid plan

Do you have a solid plan for each class or each block of time? Will that plan keep students engaged and actively learning? Teachers who do not often find themselves with extra time left over that turns into “study” time. Unengaged students generally translate into bored students who start looking for entertainment. Too frequently that entertainment is making trouble. 

The remedy is to over-plan for the day and have a backup plan ready if you misjudge the amount of time you need. If you plan for “study” time make sure it has a focus and an exit ticket. Very few students, even high school aged students, have self direction skills to make that time productive.

A positive attitude

How you choose to face the day sets the tone for your class. This means you have to let yesterday go. 

When I had an angry student call me an f-ing b*&^#%. I sent her to ISS for the period and wrote her up. I had two choices: stay angry at her and let that affect my emotions each day or put it behind me and start fresh. The principal made her apologize, which of course came with an “I am sorry I said that, but….” statement. I looked at her and said, “Today is a new day. Let’s put that behind us and concentrate on today.” She was surprised. I did not lecture her, and I did not treat her any differently than I did previously. 

Often I hear teachers say, today was so bad, I cannot imagine how bad tomorrow will be. They create a mindset that it will be bad. If you expect it to be, more often than not, it will be.

So when you have a bad day, evaluate what happened, see if you can do anything differently, and then do your best to leave it at school. Treat the next day, like it is, a fresh start. Don’t dwell on yesterday. 

Tell yourself, “Today is going to be a great day.” Say it. Believe it. Then tell your students that when they come in the room. 

It is amazing how your outlook can change when you only focus on the day in front of you.

“Students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

-John C. Maxwell

One student at a time

When you have a classroom of students it is important to realize that each one is an individual and has his/her own needs. It takes time, but building relationships is key to good classroom management. If you see a crowd of faces and not individual students, you may be missing a huge connection.

Get to know your students

Get to know your students as individuals. Talk to them when they come in the class and as you walk around the room. Ask them questions. 

One way to do this quickly is to hand out a notecard and ask questions you can use for conversations starters. Ask questions like what things they like to do, sports and clubs they are in, jobs they have, pets, hobbies, anything that might help me make a connection. You can also ask if there is anything they want you to know.

These golden nuggets of information can be used throughout the year to make sure you connect with them on a regular basis. Kids love when you show an interest in their interests. For example, I know nothing about fishing, bowling, archery or motorcycles, but I have had countless conversations about them over the years. You don’t need to be an expert, ask them about it and they will love to share!

Watch your students’ faces light up when you ask about their new puppy, their part time job, the band contest last weekend, or anything else that is important to them. This simple act makes all the difference in how they feel about you and your class.

John C. Maxwell’s saying “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is absolutely true. It really is as simple as asking questions, genuinely listening and then remembering what they say to refer to it later. When students know you care, they will do almost anything you ask. 

Connect with the troublemakers

Another tip is to try to connect with the kids you can tell early on are going to try to cause trouble. Make an extra effort to stand near them and engage them in conversation. While some teachers try to ignore them, a friendly, more direct approach will reap bigger benefits.

The first part of this tactic is that proximity will decrease a majority of the misbehaviors. A tap on the desk, a glance, a nod is often all it takes to let the student know you are paying attention. This avoids a noticeable distraction in class and acknowledges the student in an understated way.

The second part of this tactic is recognizing that these students are often trying to get your attention in the only way they know how. If you are proactive and direct their attention seeking to promote positive attention you decrease misbehavior and also start developing an ally in class. You can do this by being conversational before class and by making a point of calling their name and saying hello in the hallway. 

Make sure they know you see them and value them. Does that mean they never misbehave? No. However, when they know you see them and care about them they misbehave less. Pretty soon, they will be calling out to you in the hallway. In an interesting twist, you become “their” teacher, and they will often stand up for you when others misbehave.

One success at a time

In our teacher’s dream world, we would like to think that we will reach all students and make an indelible, life-changing impact on their lives. In reality, we win some; we lose some. We may pour our hearts into a student who drops out of school, ends up in jail or fails our class. 

It is easy to fall into the failure trap and to believe that makes us a failure teacher. However, we are missing the big picture. 

Here is a perfect example. My husband and I went to the same high school and had many of the same teachers. We shared a math teacher. We were in the same class, the same period, with the same instruction. My husband, who was an excellent math student, thought this math teacher was the best teacher ever. I, however, thought he went too quickly and did not teach well. 

On the flip side, we had a yearbook teacher that I loved and stayed in touch with for years. My husband, however, could not stand her. 

So, were these successful or unsuccessful teachers? It depends who you ask. I became a yearbook adviser for 30+ years, and my husband majored in computer science. Both of the teachers in my example can claim success!

With that in mind, it is important that you measure your teaching one success at a time. Try not to dwell on what you see as failures. Sure, you want to examine your teaching and improve when you can, but letting perceived failures define you is not only unhealthy, it is counter productive.

Take your successes as they come one at a time. Use those to bolster you on the days you need a boost. You never know who you will touch.

Teaching can become a “can’t see the forest for the trees” scenario. That is why it is important for teachers to adopt a one at a time philosophy in their careers. Taking one day at a time, dealing with one student at a time and acknowledging one success at a time allows you to improve your focus and guide your direction. What is a way you focus on one thing at a time?


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Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder


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