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Danny Steele: What I Learned as a Young Teacher

Posted on: February 6, 2024

We asked school principal and former teacher Danny Steele on his early teaching days and his tips to beginning teachers today.

Teachers generally become more effective with experience.  There are little pearls that you pick up along the way that make a big difference with your practice.  Here is some stuff that I wish I understood as a young teacher (along with pictures from my first few years in the classroom)

 It all starts with classroom management. And classroom management is not about having the right rules; it's about having the right relationships.

Kids can tell if you like them.

The students will usually finish the assignment quicker than you thought they would.

Don't expect kids to care about the lesson if you are not passionate about teaching it.

Students will remember how you treated them longer than they will remember your lesson.

It's important to stand at your door in between classes... for so many reasons.

The kids will always notice your enthusiasm.

You have to like all your students.  But the the ones who really annoy you... those are the ones you need to love.

Kids will become disrespectful if you embarrass them.  So don't do that.

When a student acts out, it is usually the result of an unmet need.  "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" explains a great deal about discipline issues in the classroom.

You have no clue what a kid is dealing with at home.  Always be kind. Always be patient. Always be gracious.

Students know when it's busy work.  If you don't have a good plan, it would be more constructive to let your students take a nap. (Most kids are behind on sleep.)

Always have a good plan.

Students will ask some great questions that might not be on topic.  Don't  forfeit a "teachable moment" for the sake of your lesson plan.

If you're having difficulty with a student's behavior, try calling the student at home.  That will serve two purposes: it lets the kid know how serious you are about the issue, and the fact that you didn't get them in trouble by asking for mom or dad creates some good will in your relationship.

Students are capable of more than you thought.  Keep your expectations high.

Homework is not usually worth it.  Be judicious about assigning it.

Group work is not effective if you leave the groups unattended.  This is not a day to sit at your desk. It's imperative that you circulate between groups to ensure that kids stay engaged and the activity is productive.

When a student is disrespectful to you, don't take it personally.  That will only escalate the situation.

One of the best ways to win over kids is not to treat them like kids.

When you ask the class if there are any questions, and no one raises their hand, that does NOT mean everyone understands.

Your students will forget most of the content you teach them, (even the "A" students).  Deal with it. Focus on teaching skills that transcend the curriculum.

Kids are sneaky about picking on other kids. Keep your head on a swivel and make your room a safe place for every student.

If you say something that you shouldn't have, apologize to the student... or sometimes to the entire class.

If you mess up, own up to it.  Students appreciate authenticity, and they admire your vulnerability.

Be silly sometimes.  It makes class more fun for everyone.

On days that you don't really want to be in class, I guarantee your students don't want to be there.

Zeros are stupid and serve no useful purpose.  Don't put them in your grade book.  Stay on kids until they do the work.

Handle unacceptable behavior immediately and decisively. And remember that everything you say and do either undermines or enhances your authority.

You can get a lot of mileage out of whispering.  (This goes back to the "embarrassment" thing.)

You will not be defined by your lesson plan; you will be defined by your passion.


An authentic "fist bump" when the kids enter the room can do more to set the tone than a routine "bell ringer."

Learn every name as fast as you can.  This matters -- for many reasons.

Don't punish the whole class for something that one goofy kid did.

Every kid cares about something.  Do not be fooled by the facade of apathy.  

Figure out little ways for students to be successful.  Success generates pride, and pride is the best motivator.

Take risks in the classroom.  You will never become awesome by staying safe.

Hang out with other teachers.  You can get ridiculously cool ideas from your colleagues

I wish I knew these things when I was younger.  

And to all those who are just starting their teaching career, as well as to those who have been at it a while: keep on keepin' on.  I admire what you do, and never forget the difference that you are making in the lives of your students.