What new teachers need to know

Gently Hew Stone lists 50 Things New Teachers Need To Know. Among his suggestions:

Avoid group work. They’ll usually just copy or play around. Or both. People who insist that students need practice “cooperating” and “working with others” are wrong. They already know how to manipulate such systems and blend in. They need practice being focused and responsible. If you do give group work, please make sure that each individual has a specific product or element of the whole for which to be responsible and graded on.

He also lists PC Myths, such as:

“All students can learn.” Well, maybe they can, but many won’t. Everybody loves an underdog, and you’ve probably been inspired by some movie where a misfit teacher doesn’t give up on some slacker with a heart of gold until said slacker unleashes their amazing hidden talent and excels. In the real world, we can’t afford to dwell on those who choose to fail. In any given class, about 5%-15% of the students will be unreachable. Don’t waste your time trying to “save” them. Meanwhile, the majority of your students are getting C’s and D’s when they really should be getting A’s and B’s. Those students, the fat middle part of the bell curve, should be your priority. Teach them.

Another myth:

“Students must be able to relate to content to understand or care about it.” How condescending! They’re not here to be pandered to, to have their warped, manufactured view of the world reinforced. They’re here to expand their horizons. That means intellectual humility borne of introspection brought on by exposure to challenging new ideas. Shock and awe, baby.

He also suggests more writing and fewer projects.

About Joanne


  1. And this advice is based on what evidence or reasoning….?

    Oh right. None.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    He says he is an experienced high school English teacher. Of course, that is a non-random sample of one. From my own non-random sample of one, I would say that a number of his “need to knows” are exaggerated or wrong, but he gets fewer things wrong than a year’s worth of ed school courses.

  3. I so agree with the last part. I am sick and tired everytime I take a seminar called ‘How to captivate students” or “How to deal with bored students.” At one it was suggested I start the lecture with music (we are talking about college level students, not toddlers).
    Hell, I am not a comedian. When I was growing up, if I dodn’t pay attention to whatever “boring” lecture the teacher was delivering, I simply failed. This is why I received a good preparation for the real world.
    “Keep them entertained?”
    Has anyone really thought how counter-productive this is?

  4. Homeschooling Granny says:

    A 51st suggestion: Tell the parents of the unreachable students at the bottom of the bell curve, as well as those at the top of the curve, that you have written off their children so that those parents have the option of taking their children elsewhere.
    As a reader of a few homeschooling lists, I find that a number of formerly unreachable children are doing very well at home with their parents.

  5. By all means… we should force those “unteachable” kids to sit and listen to boring lectures that have little to do with their lives in a 21st century. Perhaps if educators paid a little attention to what kids should be learning and focused on how to engage kids, maybe we’d have fewer “unteachable” kids.

    I hope none of the new teachers in my district ever see or read this pathetic list. How disheartening that an educator has decided to write such cynicism disguised as reality. I pity his/her students.

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    Granny–I love it!

    Athena–I would suggest first that you stop signing up for seminars on “how to deal with bored students.” First, I would question who is teaching such tripe, as opposed to working within a context of examining meaningful pedagogy. Second, I don’t see any reason to keep going back to things that you find unhelpful.

    That said, I took a couple of master’s level courses from someone who, in addition to knowing his subject matter (which included statistics and their application to such endeavors as public relations and marketing) was a master teacher. The context was a university that catered to cohorts of full-time working people, which meant that classes were four hours on Friday nights and eight hours beginning bright and early on Saturday. A regular assignment load of reading and writing through the week ensured that students had significant barriers to maintaining sustained attention during the scheduled hours. I learned as much from him about teaching as I did about statistics and marketing.

    1) He used a focusing activity everytime class restarted after a break. Generally this was something like a few Dilbert cartoons thrown on the overhead to introduce the topic. Laughing brought us back together as a class and focused attention on the lecturer.

    2) He was very attentive to what was going on, behaviorally, in class. College students are pretty subtle when their attention wanders, or they are lost–but he was continually on top of things, asking questions or calling a break when he needed to respond.

    3) Snickers bars. Every weekend he brought a bag of mini-snickers. Close to the end of the day on Saturday, when things were getting really tough he would start tossing them out to students–either as rewards for right answers, or to students who were really struggling to stay with it.

    Nothing there that couldn’t be covered in a seminar on “how to deal with bored students.” But what is really important is knowing how to focus attention, bodily responses to extended lecturing, etc.

  7. Imagine that, advice that calls for rigor, hard work, and accountability. Whip out your cell phones, call Emergency Services and have them send the EMT’s to the Ed School so they can assist all of those who are in cardiac arrest. Oh the humanity!

  8. ucladavid says:

    As a teacher of gifted students, I have to go to at least 1 gifted seminar every year. Most of the time, the only ones available are the la county gifted conference (which is on a day which I can’t do) or this boring woman from usc who hasn’t taught me anything in the 3 times I have attended her seminar. My gifted coordinator says I have to attend something and the usc woman is usually the only one that I can go to. However, I have just attended my 2nd AVID conference last week, and I have learned items that can be used in any classroom (and I have used them in all my classes). BUT they don’t count that seminar.

  9. Robert Wright says:

    Good gosh, I give this an A+. And I’m not an easy grader.

  10. Robert Wright says:

    Uh oh. He suggests Thomas Kincaid greeting cards. His grade slips to a B.

  11. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Hew Stone comes to education with an interesting perspective: “They’re not here to be pandered to, to have their warped, manufactured view of the world reinforced.”
    My perspective is that learning is what human beings do. Babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers learn all the time. Adults pursue their passions and learn. It is only in the school years they learning becomes a problem. Why?
    The notion that pandering to warped ideas or exposing children to new ideas leads are the only alternatives is a false dichotomy. The master teacher that Margo/Mom describes doesn’t fall for such a sucker’s choice.

  12. Glad my thoughts have proven so noteworthy! Please allow me to respond to the dominant criticism I’m receiving here:

    Granny and Michelle, perhaps you think I’m scowling at my problem students, muttering my wishes to throw them out the door. Hardly, but I don’t believe in sticking my head in the sand. There are plenty of kids in school today who have absolutely decided that they will not do a

  13. (Sorry for the duplicate: I pressed “enter” by accident)

    Glad my thoughts have proven so noteworthy! Please allow me to respond to the dominant criticism I’m receiving here:

    Granny and Michelle, perhaps you think I’m scowling at my problem students, muttering my wishes to throw them out the door. Hardly, but I don’t believe in sticking my head in the sand. There are plenty of kids in school today who have absolutely decided that they will not do anything that will make them successful, who refuse to buy into the system at all. Some of them can be turned around, but my experience is that, by the time they get into the 10th or 11th grade, most of these students have internalized their negative worldview for so long that they’re beyond a place where we can reasonably get through to them.

    I’d LOVE to talk to their pa

  14. (OK, this keyboard has got to go! Joanne, if you could do anything to clean this up, I’d appreciate it. Please, don’t ridicule my “itchy trigger finger” today!)

    As I was saying, I’d LOVE to talk to their parents, but the parents of these hardcore voluntary-failures tend to be absent, on drugs, or in some other way unreachable. Many of these parents truly have given up on their kids. I haven’t given up on them, but it’s not reasonable to obsess over the needs of a difficult few when the effort you’re giving them might be invested in the majority who might flounder without it, but might succeed if you focus on them.

    I’ve told some students that I think their poor choices–in school and in life–are ruining their education and more, and that if they refuse to get on board, they just shouldn’t come: I want them in, but it’s their choice to be in or out, and they need to do one or the other, rather than distract, irritate, and even endanger the rest of the class (I don’t think being a “thug” or a “stoner” is cute). You know what? Most of these students respect being treated honestly, instead of being coddled like fragile little kids.

    I let them know that if they ever want to change their habits and make something out of their opportunity in school, to let me know. Some take me up on it, some don’t. Most don’t.

    But don’t castigate me for saying what needs to be said, and what a lot of good teachers want to say but are afraid to, because they might be judged by more “compassionate” mother hens.

  15. Hear hear! Spoken like a true combat veteran. I have some minor disagreements, such as with the one about waking sleeping students. Sometimes that’s a blessing. Usually I walk down the aisle, gently touch the student on his/her arm and ask him/her if he would like to go to the nurse. They don’t want to, but if they don’t sit up with eyes open, I will write a pass and off they go. I, too, feel that I am not there to “save” the small minority of miscreants that make class miserable for everyone else. They should get the boot immediately, but they don’t even get the boot until much much later. I will not sacrifice the education of the willing to “reach” some gangbanger low-life and make myself feel like a savior. The list is right on, the author of it one righteous dude.

  16. Homeschooling Granny –

    The point about pandering to a warped view of the world relates specifically to that school of educator who continually cripples students by only teaching them what he or she believes is relevant to their lives.

    Imagine being a student in an inner city school and having everything related back to the street because that’s all your teacher thinks you know. How would you feel about yourself, and your lot in life, if you were treated like that?

    You’re right that human beings learn. All their lives, in fact. The only thing I’d add is that children learn in school, until their taught not to. When educators confine children to intellectual closets in the name of “relevance”, those children learn that school isn’t worth it, and start looking for another way out.

  17. Margo/Mom says:


    I did read through your entire list and noted that in addition to specifying your lack of responsibility for reaching the unreachable you also are pretty plain about only following IEPs enough to CYA.

    I have a son who may graduate this school year–the jury is still out. But the attitudes that you express about students “making a choice” with regard to engagement and learning didn’t just show up in high school. They were first expressed by experts at the kindergarten level. The first request for testing got me a psych intern who opined that there was nothing really wrong–he just didn’t want to learn. It was a full year later, in another school (and after an outside evaluation), before I could get confirmation of actual learning difficulties–and there was still a heavy preference for focusing on the behavioral ramifications (mainly because with that label they could move him on to yet another school) rather than learning disabilities.

    It has been a long, long road, and I have encountered many teachers who would accept your belief that some kids (including mine) are just unreachable. This also helps them to define me as “part of the problem” because I am “in denial” that this is so. None would say out loud (and I wonder if you are writing under a pseudonym to publish this) where a parent can hear that they really believe that most of the things in an IEP are just silly and that the ones that make sense they would do anyway. It is very frustrating, as a parent, to see this kind of duplicity in action.

    I have to go back to Granny’s suggestion. Why not just be honest that you accept no responsibility for the education of certain students in your class–and believe that they cannot be reached (for whatever reason). Write that into the IEP. Parents would love it. There are consequences. The district would have to pay for an appropriate education elsewhere, but hey, wouldn’t that be better all around?

  18. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Huston, I’ve no objection at all to a teacher’s saying there are certain children he or she cannot teach. What I do object to is the idea that these children can be ignored while the teacher concentrates on the middle of the bell curve (by implication also ignoring the top of the curve who are likely bored to distraction). Someone needs to be told: the principal and the parents for starters.
    Does the school system have an alternative school for those not functioning in regular classrooms?
    Some parents may not respond effectively to news that their kids are not making it but they deserve the information. I once lived in a city that hired truant officers, kindly people who showed up at homes and chatted with parents about why it was important that the kids got to be early enough to get up in time to go to school. Classroom teachers told me it made a difference.
    There are policy makers working on national tests, standards, and curriculum–a colossal waste of time because none of it will touch the problems you describe. You need to start making some noise about what the real problems are. The efforts to improve education in the US remind me of the drunk looking for his keys under the street light though that is not where he dropped them. The policy makers are looking for solutions in the wrong place. Who’s going to shine a flash light on the problems if not teachers?

  19. I’ve got #51: No PowerPoint!

  20. Keep in mind, everyone, that these are for new teachers.

    When I began teaching (as a GTA at a division 1 university in the midwest), I had three days of “orientation,” none of which gave me any practical idea of what to do in the classroom. The three-hour, once-a-week, seminar class was a complete waste of time.

    The only thing that helped me succeed as a teacher was a desire to teach, and memories of what I’d seen my favorite teachers do that was effective in a college classroom. I would have cheerfully given a limb for advice like this.

    There’s a lot that makes sense. There’s some that an experienced teacher, one who’s been at it a while longer, could safely ignore, but this seems to be advice for *new* teachers, primarily those who have had a lot of theory crammed down their throats with little to no practical experience (student teaching only goes so far) to back it up.

    Where the new teacher is concerned, this advice could mean the difference between staying with the career they’ve chosen, or leaving after a year–or possibly less.

  21. Amen to no PowerPoint, Annon.

    I think Margo/Mom and Granny are over-analyzing the list and being unfair to its author. It seems contradictory to say I’ve no objection at all to a teacher’s saying there are certain children he or she cannot teach. What I do object to is the idea that these children can be ignored by the teacher. Children that refuse to learn, look for fights, soil the atmosphere with foul language and sexual innuendo, and whose bent for derailing the education of entire classrooms is their raison d’être should not only be ignored but kicked the hell out of school. (Unfortunately, we all know they are not.) This raises the possibility that we may be talking about two totally different kinds of unteachable students.

    Does Margo/Mom believe that, given the mindset of students teachers must deal with in today’s crude and uncivil hip-hop society, and given the mounds of paperwork, the lack of support by and outright hostility of administrators, and the exhaustion that coping with all this entails, new teachers should be able to reach every kid in their classrooms and that, if they don’t, they are not doing their jobs?

  22. BadaBing, There is a difference between kids who don’t behave and kids that some teachers can’t/wont teach.

    I also have a child that some teachers can’t/wont teach.

    Teachers, both new and old, draw a paycheck to teach the children in their class. When they decide to only teach to the middle of the bell curve, they are not doing what they are paid to do, and kids like mine get thrown under the bus.

    I understand that having a wildly mixed achievement level classroom may not be their choice, but they choose to draw a paycheck from an insitution that has that made that policy decision. Deciding to take a job from a school that has mixed achievement level classes and then deciding to teach only some of the students is at least lazy and also dishonest.

  23. Some of these recommendations seem great, but a few bother me. In particular…

    “15. Keep a file of IEP and 504 plans you’re given on students. Highlight the things that you’re obligated to do. Be sure that you implement them enough to justify compliance if the student still fails or if a parent complains. This isn’t meant to be derogatory to those students or parents, but most of these accommodations, in my experience, are unnecessary and ultimately counterproductive. Most of the useful ones are things that, as a good teacher, you do anyway. However, some parents demand IEP’s and 504’s as ways of “insuring” that their children pass classes, and if they don’t, the parents will come for your head. Since you can expect no sympathy from the staff at your school (these are, after all, legally binding documents) be ready to defend yourself. If you can’t explain how you’ve complied with the requirements of a student’s accommodations, you’ll be hot water, and you don’t need that kind of grief.”

    Um, fooling an IEP in not about keeping you the teacher out of hot water but truly serving the student. Implementing them enough might be enough to get a child a C, but if you implement the differentiated instruction to its fullest that might mean a higher grade. A parent can demand an IEP all they want, but the actual document is constructed by a team of educators who are trying to serve the student.

  24. Whoops, ignore my typo (or possible freudian slip)—fooling should be fulfilling