avatarMohamed Aboelez

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The Ten Commandments of Teachers

Reflection on educator standards.

Photo by Adrian Curiel on Unsplash

First let me say, that I mean no disrespect by using the above title. In fact, I can think of fewer greater indicators of respect than to use the vocabulary of Christianity to offer a lens through which to view our profession of being tutelaries, and protectors, for children. So it is with humility and respect I offer my opinions as to the ten standards for one of the highest callings for service to this country, teaching.

First commandment: Do no harm.

Keep this foremost in your mind before you utter a word of reproach or criticism, before you speak to parents about their parenting, or to parents about their children and their intelligence, learning ability, achievement, capabilities, handicaps, etc. You get the idea. Think before you speak, and remember that the words we speak can haunt and damage children and their parents beyond measure.

By the way, this includes any written words: suggestions for writing improvement or a letter home about why Johnny is misbehaving in class. I like to remind teachers to pretend you are writing the note or speaking the words to your child. What words would wound you forever? What notes would make you cry?

I will relate a short tale as regards this. I just came home from the shop of a former parent of one of my students who runs a jewelry shop. I had a dead watch I thought she could fix.

I had taught her son, long ago, in middle school. I taught him English and Literature in seventh grade. He has just been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, due to forceps use at birth. He is so borderline that it was difficult to discern a problem in school. It was simply put that… he had learning problems. Most of his school life was miserable. He couldn’t tie his shoes, and P.E. teachers made fun of him for this. He couldn’t write, and his third-grade teacher made him sit outside the classroom door.

By the time I started to work with him, I realized he had problems, and the parents were upfront about it — which helped. We decided to help him and I decided to do no harm. A sweeter, gentler, kinder young boy no one could have found. It would have been easy for me to fail him or write him off, but I did neither. Not because I am a saint. I have made my share of many mistakes, but never through intentional cruelty, usually just through my stupidity.

I simply modified his assignments (quietly) the best I could. His writing was impossible, so either I or his parents transcribed, or I tried oral responses — which he could do. I cared about this sensitive soul and wanted his journey with me to be as joyful and pain-free as I could make it.

Others in middle school and high school helped him too, and he was able to graduate and works with his parents now, is a masseuse part-time, and is functional. According to his mother, he felt great relief when he heard the diagnosis. I can only imagine how hellish it has been for him to not know why he is different.

The truth is that for me, he was a gift. I can still see his blonde hair and cherubic face sitting in the front row of my class. I will never forget his kind ways, and I pray he will not forget mine either, and that I eased his passage to learning and adulthood. Remember this story. It has been many years since I have seen this boy, who is now a man — but his parents have never forgotten me or them or him.

Second Commandment: Keep the children safe.

This means that you are aware of the many factors in schools that can hurt children and take steps to prevent it.

This includes: adhering to fire, disaster drills, and safety procedures in the building (including attending training and learning, reading manuals, posting exit maps and procedures as required, and checking the identification of visitors to the building).

This also includes reporting parents who are abusive — this can be done anonymously now and in most states- it is a crime, and you can lose your license, if you do not report it.

This includes reporting teachers on your campus, whom you have witnessed or have strong evidence regarding, abusing children or using legal or illegal drugs while working. If your evidence is strong enough, it is your obligation to report it to your administrator, and if he/she does nothing, then report this person to the legal authorities. It is your business if the teacher next door is drinking while on the job. Not only are our reputations being damaged by immoral or unethical behavior like this, but trust in a community is severely damaged when this happens. Nothing happens in a vacuum, but usually someone knows something or suspects something, but we remain quiet. Why? Our loyalty does not lie with these types of people, but with the children we are sworn to protect.

Last, do not forget that bullying — in all forms — is abusive, and many believe that it leads to violence and rage.

Witness Columbine and the many other school shootings in this country. While it may seem convenient to blame parents, it is also OUR responsibility to observe, protect, and intervene. This may mean training for your campus regarding bullying and intervention techniques. or lacking that reading a book recommended by your counselor. There are wonderful programs out there, so don’t let your lack of knowledge be an excuse.

Third commandment: Love them, Especially when it is hard

I will never forget the two incidents in my teaching career that exemplified this commandment.

I walked a surly, long-haired, six-foot-tall juvenile into my eighth-grade English class. With a sardonic grin, he fell into a chair, and slumped down, sticking his legs out into the aisle. He was devilishly good-looking and as I was soon to find out very popular with boys and girls in the school — who seemed to respect him a great deal.

Warily heading to the front of the class, I began to teach. Halfway through, I broke for classwork and homework assignments. He ignored the work and began drawing. As I drew closer I viewed the most exquisite artwork I have ever seen. I expressed admiration for his work and asked him if he was in Art class. No, he replied.

After the day was over I headed to the counselor to find out more about this young man. Apparently, he had a very bad reputation. I insisted he be allowed to take Art and went to speak to the Art teacher. Of course, his schedule had to be changed and he was moved out of my room.

I know you may think that was my motivation… but I assure you it was not. He had a talent I had never seen before in one so young.

She said, “One mistake and he’s gone.”

“Fair enough, just give him a chance,” I murmured.

The next morning he was gone to another English class. I saw the Art teacher several days later and asked her how he was doing.

She said,” He’s no trouble. As a matter of fact, he’s a big help. He cleans up and carries materials for me.”

“Is he as good as he appeared to be?”

“He’s teaching me things I didn’t even know,” she said.

In my second year of middle school at another campus, an African–American juvenile, convicted of sexual assault, sauntered into my class and sat across two chairs in the back of my remedial English class. (They had those types of classes then).

He slammed his books down on his desk and gave me a belligerent look. Our turning moment came later in the month. We warily tried to respect each other. But one day he refused to stand up for the pledge.

“Get your ass up and stand up. I can’t make you say the pledge, but you can stand up and be respectful of YOUR fathers, brothers, and uncles who shed their blood for that flag,” I said. See what I mean about stupid.

But the funny thing is, is that it worked. I meant it, and he knew it. I helped him think about the fact that probably just as many African-Americans have shed their blood for this country and flag as whites. He was showing disrespect for them, not me. He never gave me any trouble after that. I respected him and helped him learn and I think he respected me.

Due to some events in my life, I had to leave that position that year at mid-year. No, it was not due to stupidity on my part. I heard later that he threw chairs across the room with the new teacher, and was expelled.

It is ironic I mention middle school incidents. I guess it is because, usually, elementary children are so easy to love. Not always, of course, but for the most part. Sometimes, it is harder with the older ones.

Remember that for some children, you may be the only person that may ever care about them, or believe in them.

Fourth Commandment: Help them learn

Your job is to teach AND help them learn. It is not enough to write assignments on the board, teach beautifully, or assign exciting projects or books to read…if they are not learning.

How do you know if they are learning? Ask them. If they can’t answer, or won’t answer you, use a form of assessment that measures MASTERY. Warning this is not usually a test made by the state, the district, or some textbook, but one you have designed yourself or planned as an assessment when you planned the lesson.

If you do not know how to plan assessments for learning and mastery as part of the teaching or lesson plan, then that’s a whole other chapter.

I can tell you briefly these things help: let them teach and re-teach each other when learning, let them work in groups, give them plenty of practice, re-teach often when needed, do not move too fast, do not assume everyone has learned because you have taught it, and do not take the results of learning as indicators of mastery. Not the same thing. Enough said.

Fifth Commandment: Know your stuff

It seems to be an unfortunate comment on the times that teachers who are not certified in an area or subject matter are being asked or forced to teach in a subject unfamiliar to them.

I can’t fix that and probably most teachers can’t either. But if you are in this position, be a professional and learn on your own. Take classes and professional development, audit other teachers, seek a mentor, and read professional books and magazines. Many professional journals are online now. There’s no excuse why a teacher can’t spend an hour a day reading to further his/her education.

If you are teaching in an area/subject that you are certified in, do not become complacent. Use last year’s lesson plans as ideas, but do not repeat them. You have a different set of students with different capabilities. You have a different schedule. This all means different learning and achievement.

Also, keep learning. There are few things worse than an experienced teacher who is so sure he/she is right and his/her way is the only way to teach. Not only is this a big turn-off for other kids and teachers, it is for parents, as well. That is arrogance and complacency at its worst.

New information regarding learning bombards us with how little we really know about how the brain works. Keep learning, reading, and attending professional development.

I am also in favor of knowing some of the obvious basics that are the foundation of all learning as tried and true pillars:

Simple to complex is usually best.

Alphabet and Phonics mastery precedes reading.

Pre-teach the foundational skills to learning your lesson objective.

Spelling and writing are integrative and essential to each other.

Teach the student in the way he/she learns best.

Modify to meet student’s needs.

Keep learning fun.

Observe your students and give them breaks.

Have a passion for what you do.

Enough said.

Sixth Commandment: Love what you do

Easy to say, isn’t it? But you must love teaching, kids, and have a great passion to see the light that enters their eyes when they have discovered new material. There is no greater high in the natural world.

If you are bored with life and teaching, please…please… do us all a favor and find something else to do that lights your fire.

I don’t really know how to tell you to light what might not be there, but you might keep these ideas in mind.

Make sure you balance your life with play, fun, and hobbies. Don’t neglect your own children or spouse for teaching. Get enough rest, eat right, and take frequent breaks.

I really do not think the general public realizes how difficult teaching 25 students can be. It is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining. Pray a lot, read for pleasure, and find pleasure in life. Whatever renews your spirits and soul, helps breathe new life into your love for teaching.

I know the pay is often poor, and some teachers have to work second jobs just to make ends meet.

This is a terrible invitation for teachers to leave the field, and communities that support low pay for teachers usually get what they pay for.

I was just thinking the other day how ironic it is that some professionals have no problem buying big, expensive cars, homes, and clothes because …” you get what you pay for.”

But they rarely apply that to schools and teacher’s salaries.

Seventh Commandment: Create communities devoted to kids and learning

How can I do that, you ask?

Good question, and it may be a hard one, but not impossible.

One teacher can make a tremendous difference and we all have heard the stories about those teachers. And you do not have to write a book about it, or make a movie either, to do this.

The first step is to join the P.T.A. or P.T.O. at your school and become active — within reason. Help out with fundraisers, community drives, or ideas to encourage the children to be a helpful part of the community. Serve on the board, if you can.

Serve on community boards, district groups, or brainstorming groups. Work on committees on your campus to improve standards of learning for teachers.

Join a professional; organization devoted to learning and helping kids learn.

Become certified in areas of need, and be willing to learn from other great teachers.

Represent your community or school when you are able with pride, confidence, and professionalism. Do not gossip or belittle your school or your district. Dress professionally. Tight, revealing, or sloppy clothes indicate a lack of self-esteem and pride regarding yourself.

Eighth Commandment: Support the other professionals in your community

It is not a contradiction when I say this in light of my comments regarding reporting abusive behavior. This is plain old courtesy and good manners, which seems to be a dying commodity, lately.

You can still and should show respect for all professionals in your building; from the janitor to the school secretary. This means being courteous and polite, saying please and thank you, often. Asking politely for something is mature behavior, instead of acting like outraged children that you do not have it NOW.

The Golden Rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” still applies everywhere. Even if other people do not abide by it, you can. You can turn the other cheek when you need to. I am by no means suggesting that you let others abuse, belittle, or insult you, and take it. But you can respond like an adult without insult and disparagement.

You may have noticed that everyone has a chip on their shoulder lately and flies into a rage over the slightest incident. (Witness road rage, and temper tantrums in stores.) This is not assertive behavior, this is adolescence, immaturity… refusing to grow to adulthood.

A school system is a social group nurtured by courtesy, empathy, and understanding. Do your part to be the adult. Speak to everyone every day. Say Good Morning. Tell people goodbye. Ask if they need help. Help out when you can. Don’t fight with other teachers or gossip about them.

Ninth Commandment: Support your administrator and district personnel

I admit that at times this has been hard for me. I have seen a change that was made for political reasons or for personal aggrandizement and it was very discomfiting for me.

But in general, I can tell you that most administrative personnel care about kids as much as teachers. They have a hard job overseeing the general plan and all the details. It is particularly hard when they want to implement change and they have few supporters.

Most teachers will tell a principal why all the changes they want to implement won’t work, but these same teachers rarely have an alternative solution or have even thought about it. Complainers and gripers bring everybody down.

Remember creating a community of learners can not be done with the leaders. Do your part. Willingly cooperate and help the leaders. They will see you as part of a team instead of someone they wish would leave the community. If change is happening, try to become part of the learning curve, you may be surprised at how much you learn, and this may change your opinion of the change being implemented.

Tenth Commandment: Stay in teaching or keep contributing

Maybe you can’t stay in teaching. Maybe the salary is so low, you can’t survive. No one should be forced to starve, just because they are willing to serve a cause greater than themselves. But if you love it, and are good at it, even if you are approaching burn-out, try to stay in the field of education.

Becoming a principal is not the answer if you love teaching. Trust me, most of them are handling paperwork and bureaucratic demands; they are not teaching and working with kids on a minute-by-minute basis. If they were ever any good at teaching, most of them miss it and envy you.

Taking a leave of absence may work for you. Approaching teaching from a different angle may work. The Peace Corps still needs teachers. Teaching overseas can be exciting. Asian countries always need English teachers. Going back to school may help re-ignite the fire and passion for you.

Taking off a couple of years to try something else is always okay. You may find that you missed teaching and wanted to go back. Schools respect that, so don’t worry that you won’t find a job.

Consider research, writing, and other avenues of teaching — dance, gymnastics, cooking. Teaching is really almost everywhere and there are never enough good teachers to fill the need. Stay with us folks, we need you!

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