15 Ways to be the Best Teacher This Year

I initially wrote this post to give advice to new and first year teachers and veteran teachers, who needed a pick me on of the best ways to support their students in elementary, middle and high school. I've since revamped it as tips to be successful in online teaching, digital learning and any other teaching capacity in which you find yourself in.

What is Online Teaching?

Online teaching typically describe instruction that does not occur in a traditional classroom setting where the teacher and student are physically present. It encompasses instruction that occurs via numerous online platforms and tools, which allow the teacher to share knowledge, provide feedback and evaluate mastery.

How is Online Teaching Done?

Online teaching can occur in many ways, but namely occurs synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous learning happens where students can communicate with their teacher and peers via immediate messaging, but asynchronous learning can be delivered on and offline and does not allow for immediate communication with peers and teachers.

Whether online teaching occurs synchronously or asynchronously, students should still be engaged in learning and in the creation of products that demonstrate their level of understanding, while receiving feedback from the teacher.

What are Online Teaching Tools?

There are many online teaching tools available to teachers and students. The main things that teachers should consider before using any online teaching tool is the safety features it offers, ease of use and age appropriateness, accessibility, compatibility with learning targets and material as well as the online learning tool's overall capacity.

Some of the most common online teaching tools currently include Google Classroom, Zoom and Screencastify to name a few. Here are some of the best online learning resources for students that I have used for years in my classroom.

How to Be the Best Teacher with Online Teaching or Otherwise This Year?

Teaching was already an extremely challenging profession. Now, with the pressures of a pandemic and the need to resort to online teaching, educators are dealing with even more challenges. As a result, I wanted to remind you of 15 important tips and advice I've accumulated in my years of teaching.

Even though almost everything about the way we go about our job has changed, we all have the same goal, to support our students and parents, to help them learn, grow and maintain previously acquired knowledge, in short to be the best teacher possible. Being the best teacher, in my opinion, is not only essential to your students and school, but also to your sense of purpose and fulfillment.

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This is year 15 for me and over those years I’ve come up with essential components, or words of advice for teachers if you will, which help to remind us of what's truly important. In my career, I’ve taught English Language Arts and Social Studies for third and fourth grade regular education students. Currently, I teach English Language Arts for first through fifth grade gifted students.

I want to share my advice for new and veteran teachers alike in the hopes they can help you navigate the world of teaching more effectively than I did, especially in the beginning.

I think these words of advice are appropriate for all teachers at every level.

You are the single most important factor in a school setting for your students. You directly affect your student’s opinion of learning, teachers and more importantly how they view them self.

Yes, that’s a lot of pressure, but I know you’re up to the challenge. Remember that even if their home life or previous school year or first half of the school year was terrible, you can be a part of the change that is needed to turn it all around.

Without further ado, here are The Top 15 Words of Advice for New and Veteran Teachers (Yes, it still applies in online teaching):

1. Meet needs

Your students all come to you at varying levels of readiness for whatever you will be teaching. Remember even as you plan for your class to try to see each student’s individual strengths and weaknesses. As best as you can, try to meet their needs. Sometimes those needs won't be academic. Sometimes being the best teacher means you’ll have to be a parent, nurse, listening ear or sounding board. Meet their needs as effectively as you can and if you can’t, try involve someone who can.

2. Build a solid support system

Teaching is hard work. In giving so much of yourself to so many students daily, you deplete your own reserves. Assemble a solid support system in your life that you can go to to unload and vent, to lick your wounds, to be vulnerable, so that when you return to your students, you are able to be their strength. Choose teachers or friends who you admire or trust, a caring partner or spouse, or a parent who gives great advice. Make sure the members of your support system are trustworthy and are ok with possibly having to piece you together throughout the year.

3. Listen

This one was especially hard for me. I’m a talker and I’m pretty good at it. It’s my nature to immediately try to fix things, but sometimes that is not what my students wanted or needed. To be the best teacher sometimes meant I had to be a good listener. Students want to be heard and valued. They want to know that someone cares enough to consider their opinion or thoughts respectfully.

4. Empathize

Your students go through so much that you may be aware and unaware of. When they trust you enough to share parts of themselves that may be painful, show empathy. For a student, knowing someone is there and genuinely cares can be half the battle towards moving forward or out of something negative.

5. Get uncomfortable

As teachers, we sometimes get in our ruts. What do I mean by that? We teach the same units of study, the same way and feel mystified when students aren’t getting it. Well, things change rapidly and in order to connect with your students, your teaching methodology and resources should change too.

Now don’t get me wrong, if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it, but when you realize it’s broken, get uncomfortable, ask for help, seek out additional training or support to help connect with your students. An even more powerful idea, ask your students. You’d be surprised to find they know exactly how they learn best and will provide you with vital information that can make your task of finding ways to connect with and teach them easier.

Last year, we went through a lot of issues with focus, so I asked them how I could help. We did some research together and decided to try out flexible seating. It has worked fabulously. You can find out more about our flexible seating journey at

How to Have the Best School Year With Flexible Seating.

6. See your students and yourself as whole people.

We tend to forget, when we’re inside the bubble of our classroom and school walls, that there is a whole world outside. Remember that there are factors and variables you know nothing about and can’t control, but that do directly impact your students and you. I’m not saying make excuses, but I am saying, consider the big picture.

The child who’s refusing to read could be tired from not getting any rest or eating. If you are particularly stressed, be cognizant of that and be even more loving to compensate for what’s occurring outside your classroom and school walls.

7. Be an advocate

This is a piece of advice I was given by veteran teachers and mentors and it is of the utmost importance: You must be an advocate for your students. You may be the only trusted adult in your students' lives. Truly get to know them as best as possible and advocate for them when necessary. It could be asking for an extra serving because you know they’re hungry, it could be extending their small group time because you know they need help, or getting them an appointment to see the counselor because their dog died and they’re not taking it well. Whatever the “it” may be that’s standing in the way of your student excelling, try to eliminate or minimize the impact as best as you can.

8. Learn to say, “No.”

This is another piece of advice I wish someone had impressed upon me more as a new teacher at at several other points in my career. It took forever for me to learn this and I still struggle with it now, but you must learn to say and mean no.

There is no shortage of things that need to be done in a school and you will feel compelled to help with everything and do everything, but you can’t. Not if you want to be effective or survive the school year for that matter. Be conscious of all of your obligations inside and outside of school and only take on what you can do comfortably well. Explain your stance to your administrator. Good administrators will understand and respect you for not wanting to do a shoddy job.

9. Ask for help

Listen and act on this next bit of advice for teachers. It is directly related to saying no above and it is to know when to ask for help. I always want to prove myself and be an asset to the team and so on and so forth and it led to exhaustion and despair. I’d get to work early, leave late, take mountains of work home and spend all weekend working on lesson planning, guided reading group etc. Learn from my mistake and ask for help.

You don’t need to be a martyr. Trying to do it all alone usually ends up being counter productive. There are people like parents or friends or student teachers who can help to lessen your load. It is not weakness or a show of inadequacy that you ask for and enlist support, rather it shows awareness and great strength.

10. Pull away

You don’t need to be friends with everyone in your building. Some people have a really negative, toxic energy that can be contagious, if you're not careful. Be cordial and professional, but you don’t need to sit with them and complain or listen to them complain. It is important that you protect your space and energy and it sometimes comes in the form of limiting your interaction with specific people.

11. Have fun

I had so many rules, when I first started teaching, about who I felt I had to be as a teacher and what things I could and could not do with my students. For example: I didn’t smile very often and thought I had to be very stern to earn and maintain their respect.

Over the years, I’ve discovered earning their respect had nothing to do with how often I smiled, it has everything to do with the relationships I built with students. Currently, my students and I joke all the time. They're my family and we genuinely enjoy our time together. I still expect them to behave well, to work hard and to be respectful, but all of that is centered around a positive loving environment they see as the best mix of academic learning and homey comfort.

One of the things that I do at work now that is very fun and that I look forward to yearly is I participate in Book Character Costume Day. I love coming with ideas for book character costumes and watching my students light up with recognition or laugh because their teacher looks silly. As a teacher, you have to learn not to take yourself so seriously.

12. Build authentic relationships

A huge tip that can never be said enough to beginning teachers or any teacher for that matter is build and develop relationships. Relationship building is at the forefront of everything that drives my class. I try to get to know my students on an individual basis. What are their likes and dislikes, what is their family dynamic, how do they like to learn and what is their favorite subject? I lead this by sharing about myself and my family.

I am vulnerable with them. I share the highs and lows (of course appropriately, based on age and maturity) and I reinforce, at every opportunity, that we are a family and how much more effective we can be if we work as a team instead of against each other. I hold my students to practicing good self care and also taking care of each other. I try my best to model what I want to see from them at all times. This is easier with some students than others, but the pay off is indescribable.

I'm fortunate enough to loop with my students and teach some children for over 3 years. When they complete their fifth grade year, I'm usually a wreck because at that point I bear the pain of having one of my children move on. Fortunately for me, I work in a close knit community and even when they go to middle school, I am able to check up on most of them, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to build deep connections with your students.

13. Challenge your students and yourself

I expect excellence from my students. Not perfection, excellence. I expect them to work hard and try their best irrespective of how difficult they perceive something to be. I provide support, supplies, redirection, whatever is necessary, but I want them to welcome challenges, to approach them with a positive attitude and to give their best at all times.

I do the same with myself. Each year, I try to take on something new that I’m not necessarily good at, so I am growing and being challenged as well as my students. Last year, my students and I created a bat habitat. I am a Language Arts teacher who loves books and writing, so dabbling in science and math was way outside of my comfort zone, but I honestly loved learning about bats and bat habitats with my students.

They positively surprised me with their willingness to struggle or to try and fail. No matter what difficulty we ran into, they kept positive outlooks and would keep trying until we figured it out. The best teaching and learning experiences I’ve been involved in, at all phases of my career, included working on a project or skill that was outside of my area of comfort or expertise.

Before the bat habitat, I expanded our chess club and started competing outside of our building and also hosted a chess tournament on our campus. For someone who’d never played chess. prior to learning to take over the club four years ago, I think things are going well. My post 5 Reasons You Need to Immediately Start a Chess Club can be helpful if you would like to start your own chess club.

Are you looking for resources to help to meet the needs of your students? Here are my recommendations for the best online educational resources. As a language arts teacher, who is passionate about writing instruction and who likes to personalize assignments based on students learning styles, I try to create challenging activities. Two you might enjoy are the greatest writing prompts for kids post and personalized nonfiction practice, games and activities on Martin Luther King.

14. Involve your students in relevant decisions

Children are much more capable than we often give them credit for.To use the example of building our bat habitat, they were able to suggest possible solutions to issues we encountered with planting and building when I was out of ideas.

Some of the solutions they suggested would never have occurred to me. Where applicable, allow your students to be aware of and involved in decision making processes. It will lighten the load for you and will help them to develop important life skills.

15. Listen to your instincts and heart.

One of my most heartfelt words of advice to new and veteran teachers is to listen to your instincts and heart. Teaching, good teaching, is a work of heart. You started this journey to positively impact lives, to enrich students and to leave them better than you found them. If you keep that foremost in all that you do, then things will work out as they should.

Yes, you will feel overwhelmed, frustrated, exhausted, but I promise it will be worth it. I have looked back in appreciation at all my years in education. I've been especially thankful for the years I previously thought were the worst ever. Now looking back, I realize that those years helped me to grow as an educator. Also, irrespective of the hardships, what I I remember now are the smiles, aha moments or sayings of my children.

My final take away is even with your most difficult or challenging child, imagine that they are your own child or your most loved one and treat them the way you would that person if they were being difficult. Children give us the best of what they have or what they know, so if they’re giving you something terrible, it might be all they have at the moment. Be patient, teach them how to treat others by treating them well. It will pay off.

If no one else tells you this, YOU’RE AN AMAZING TEACHER. You are valued and needed. Yes, you’re human and things might not always go perfectly, but that’s fine. Remember to implement some consistent self care methods and rest whenever you have the opportunity. You were made for this and you’ve got it. You are shaping the direction of our future world, shape it well!

Did you like reading this post? I hope so. If you did. Please pin and share it with other teachers who may need some encouragement or support. Want to keep up with my latest posts? Click the join button above and receive a free non-fiction resource (personalized playlist of activities for students to demonstrate comprehension of key non-fiction skills based on their preferred learning style). Come back soon.

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