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Tips for New (and Experienced!) Science Teachers

These tips will serve you well your entire teaching career!

Learning is a life-long experience.  We are never too young or too old to learn new things.  After teaching for 31 years, I am still learning how to be a better teacher.  Along the way I had wonderful mentors and colleagues who helped me develop my teaching skills, and I discovered a few things for myself as well.

The tips and tricks below will serve you well.  Remember them.  Incorporate them into your daily teaching routine.  Refine them and make them your own.

Never this.  Please, never this!
1.  Safety first.  Safety always.
Develop a lab safety unit and teach it the first week of school.  Stress laboratory safety every single day of the year.

2.  Before students arrive for back-to-school, do an analysis of your lab and classroom.  Check all equipment and furniture.  Remove unusable items.  CLEAN everything!

3.  Check your safety equipment often.
Have you flushed your eyewash station?  When was the last time you checked the safety shower?  Is your fire extinguisher fully charged?  Is the first aid kit fully stocked?

4.  Stay on top of repairs.  Turn in work orders for those leaky faucets, stopped up gas jets, and burned out lights.  Follow up on work orders once they have been submitted.  Be relentless in getting things fixed.

5.  The custodians and plant managers are your best friends.
Treat them well and with respect.  They will save you many, many times during the school year.

6.  Never do a lab with students until you have tried the lab yourself.
You can never predict what will happen or how things will work until you carry out the experiment yourself.  If you are seeing a lab unfold for the first time while students are doing the lab, this is a recipe for EPIC FAIL.

7.  Make out your lab order all year long.  Keep a lab notebook handy, and constantly make notes in it.  Record supplies that are running low and need to be ordered for the next school year.  At the end of the year, grab the catalogs and make out your lab order before you go home for the summer.

8.  Don't go home at the end of the day until everything is ready for tomorrow.  This is a hard one because we are exhausted at the end of the day!  Before you leave in the afternoon, your lab should be set up, all handouts should be copied, all phone calls should be returned, and you put your desk in order.  If you wait until the next morning, Murphy's Law will set in. "Things" always happen when you get to school.  The copier will break, your principal will ask for a meeting, students come in to ask questions, the teacher next door will not quit talking, etc.  Be sure everything is ready before you get to school!

9.  Make sure the classroom is neat and orderly.  This is actually a great science experiment!  A wise teacher once told me to straighten the desks after each class period before the next class enters.  Student behavior is affected by the environment.  The class is much more productive and well behaved if there is order in the room as they enter.  If the rows are crooked, the desks are scattered around, papers are all over the floor, and the pencil sharpener is overflowing, student behavior will be different.  Sounds crazy, but this is true.  Try it and see for yourself.

10.  Study.  Study.  Study.  
Study some more!  Never teach a lesson that you are not prepared to teach.  Science is complex stuff, and it is always changing!  You will embarrass yourself if you stumble around with the content and are unable to explain concepts to the students.  Our students are brilliant at picking up on the fact that we are unprepared, and they will be relentless to point this out during your class.

11.  Make it fun, but please make it educational!  Science classes are so much fun!  We get to use all sorts of neat equipment and cool gadgets!  Our students are depending on us to give them a great science education.  Let's use all of our fun "science toys" to further their education.  If you want to make silly putty or glue in the lab, make sure the students learn something from it.

12.  Go as deep into the subject matter content as your students can handle.  There is a fine line between "too easy" and "too hard."  Neither should be happening in your class.  Determine the ability level and knowledge base of your students, and push them to the next level.  Know that the students you have next year will be different.

13.  Don't be afraid to say "I don't know."  All of us, even the best prepared of us, will be asked questions that we do not know the answer to.  How you handle these questions makes all the difference. Sometimes you just have to say "I don't know."  But you need to have an answer the next day when the students arrive.  They will appreciate that you went the extra mile to answer their questions.

14.  Know your limitations.  Work as hard as you can every single day.  Do all you can do for your students.  But know that you can't do everything. Don't take on more than you can handle, and don't be afraid to say "no."

15.  Find a mentor.  Find an amazing teacher that you trust and respect. Talk with him/her often! Someone on the faculty has already had the problem you are facing, and they can help you through it.  A good mentor has a wealth of valuable knowledge and experience, and the support they can give is invaluable!

16.  They're your students, not your friends!  Cultivate a great relationship with your students.  Know your students likes and dislikes. Attend their sports events, band concerts and theater productions.  Make sure they know that you care for them, and that you are willing to help them.  But remember that you are the teacher and they are the students, and a certainly boundary must be maintained.

17.  Respect must be earned.  Always treat your students with respect and dignity.  The lessons we teach in citizenship and tolerance of others are as important as the science lessons we teach.  Be the role model for the behaviors you want to see in your students.

18.  Call the parents before they call you.  If you initiate the contact, then you are in control of the direction and flow of the conversation.  If the parent is calling you, they are probably already upset or mad, and it will be more difficult to get them back on your side.

19.  Take home the work, but not the problems.
Working at home is a given for teachers.  We know we are going to be grading papers and preparing lessons on our personal time.  But try to leave the problems and stresses of the day at work.  If you have a problem with a student, colleague or administrator, solve it before you leave for the day. If you don't, you will worry about it all day (or week end) long.  Better to get the stress and worry out of your head before you leave for the day.

20.  Excitement in the classroom is contagious.
You have to love your subject and let it show to your students how much you love your subject.  If you are excited about what you are teaching, the students will be too.

It is my sincere hope that some of these tips will help you through the long days of the school year.  Good luck with your teaching, and have a great school year.  And remember ..... Have fun teaching!