Letter to a New Teacher

Dear new teacher,

Welcome to this wonderful city, and more importantly to the wonderful profession of teaching.  As being a new teacher can often be a somewhat scary and intimidating experience, I have taken the time to write you a few words of wisdom.  As a 10 year veteran teacher in New Orleans Public Schools, a 3-time recipient of “teacher capable of the most improvement” award, renowned MC of the Cypress Knees Middle School Talent Show, and currently serving an involuntary leave from my teaching post, I can confidently say that what follows are some helpful hints sure to bring you wild success during your first year of teaching.


Take a strong stance on misbehavior


1.) Trouble with classroom management?           Use Karate.

During the first few weeks of school, the students will be sizing you up and wondering if you mean business.  Nothing shows them that you mean business more than a few impressive displays of your own agility and physical strength.  Whenever my students would begin talking during the lesson or engaging in any other number of distracting activities that I never told them were against the rules, I would respond not by using a “call to order” or an “engaging re-direct strategy”, but instead by showing off the complicated moves and fighting stances I once learned in a Tae Kwon Do class in 1992.  After growing very silent and still, I would suddenly erupt into a bewildering fury, kicking the air, yelling, and moving swiftly around the classroom breaking the small blocks of wood, cereal boxes, and cut-out cardboard “opponents” I had discretely set up in the classroom during my morning planning period.  If done correctly, the students will be silent and focused entirely on you as you stand heaving, sweaty, and exhausted.  This is a perfect time to wipe the tears from your cheeks and proclaim “I am a tough teacher.  I take no crap.  Please don’t make me use this yellow belt again.”


Make every chair a Time-Out Chair


2.) The best consequence is a reminder that you are not afraid to give consequences.

As explained in Setting Limits in the Classroom, the hardest part of classroom management is following through on the consequences you state.  If you say “the next person who talks without raising their hand is going to lose recess.”  You can bet that if Jimmy talks during the lesson, the rest of the class will be watching to see if you follow through on your promise to revoke his recess.

This is tough because, if you fail to follow through, the students will see how weak you are.  I have found a perfect way around this:  Instead of actually giving consequences, simply remind the students that your are not afraid to give consequences.  “Punishment is my middle name,” you can say.  Remind them that if they don’t straighten up soon, then , you swear to god, you will give them some sort of consequence sometime in the future.  The key here is to remain vague about what the actual consequence is.  If they don’t know what the consequence will be, then they don’t know if you’ve followed through on enforcing it or not.

Effective Phrases include:

  • “I’ll wait”
  • “You may remember I said that I was going to punish the whole class if David keeps talking.  Don’t think I won’t do it.  I will.  I swear to god, I will.  Keep talking, David, if you doubt me.”
  • “This time, I mean it!!  This is really your last chance.  I swear to god. I mean business.”

In general, the key is swearing to god.  If they are from religious families, they will understand that swearing to god is a big deal – a pact that cannot be broken.

3.) Show them what  good reading looks like


Daniel effectively displaying the "ponderous head tilt" reading method


I often have my students just watch me read.  For hours at time.  They form a circle, and I sit in this circle and read a magazine.  I do not read the words aloud to them because I don’t want them to get distracted by trying to understand the text or follow along in their books.  I want them to see what a good reader looks like when he’s reading.  I want them to pick up the subtleties –   the furrowed brow, the sophisticated cross of the legs, the chin-stroke while simultaneously muttering “ahhhhh…haaaa”.  Anyone who knows anything about teaching understands the mantra , “I do.  You watch.  I do.”  It’s tough.  The students will probably tell you that they are bored and want to read their own books.  DO NOT LET THEM READ THEIR OWN BOOKS.  Remind them that reading is 10% phonics, 20% comprehension, and 90% looking fabulous.

4.) Sometimes all your lesson needs is a hook.


show them, don't tell them


I recently taught my 5th graders a lesson on the Industrial Revolution.  To do this, I had them form an assembly line and make paper airplanes.  Easy enough.  While they were doing this, I began flickering the lights on and off , and yelling through a megaphone “work faster…work faster.”  After an hour of this, I turned the lights on, had them return to their desks, and I proclaimed, “and that, students, is what the Industrial Revolution was like.”  Boom.  No need for a textbook, no need for memorizing dates or properly contextualizing the exercise.  We ended the lesson at that, and got excited for the next day’s lesson on World War I.  Of course, the students are going to have a lot of questions for you like “what does industrial mean?” and a whole bunch of other silly kid questions.  Though it will be tempting, you must resist the urge to answer these questions.  For after all, teaching is about stoking the fires of curiosity.  The more questions they have, the more they are learning.

5.) Nothing guarantees student achievement better than an inspirational quote.


so true


It is important to cover the walls of your classroom with visual aides.  While some choose to put up examples of outstanding student work or charts and diagrams that reinforce class material, I choose to paper the walls of my classroom with inspirational phrases that I have made up myself. On my walls you will see the following gems of wisdom (feel free to reuse any of these)

  • Dreams are the future
  • Follow the path of wonderment
  • Tomorrow belongs to dream achievement
  • Believe in your beliefs wonder dream
  • It is ok for a grown man to cry into the closet when he feels like the class is not listening to him . (this affirmation is meant just for me and is only posted  in the supply closet behind my desk)

Any time students have questions about the material or difficulty understanding a concept, I point to one of the signs and have them read it out loud.  Then everything is ok.

In conclusion, I hope these words of advice help you and your new students to soar on the wings of a dream this school year.  Do not doubt yourself.  Do not give up.  And most importantly don’t forget: Good teaching is all about teaching.


Phillip T. Billups

“Dreams are found at Rainbow’s End”

One Comment Add yours

  1. Omigosh! This is hilarious! I mean, I hope you are kidding because there are, of course, elements of truth in here… but I love this blog! And I love New Orleans and I know it can be challenging to teach, really teach in an urban setting. But still, what a hoot!

    Come check out my slightly more serious take for new teachers if you care.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s