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Virginia Journal of Education

Marshall Leitch, one of the VEA’s most experienced UniServ directors, knows that even the most seasoned educators sometimes run into problems with students, parents, administrators or others—even when they’re doing everything right. He spends at least half his time fielding calls from educators who’ve encountered problems on the job. In the world of the classroom, it’s inevitable.

Some problems are larger than others, however. When Leitch speaks to groups of teachers, especially beginning ones, this is one way he distinguishes between big and small problems: “An example of a small problem is, ‘A parent has called my principal and accused me of being unfair because of a grade one of my students earned.’ Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid the occasional small problem. An example of a big problem is, ‘They came and arrested me at school today.’ That usually gets their attention.”

The list that follows was created by Leitch and is now part of the VEA’s Savvy Pro training workshop. It’s a kind of roadmap for teachers to help them avoid “big” problems, or to prevent smaller problems from developing into larger ones. Leitch notes that the major difference between VEA members who come to him with small problems and the ones who come with big, potentially career-killing problems is that the ones with only smaller problems tend to practice most or all of the characteristics spelled out here.

Eight Habits of Smooth-Sailing Teachers

1.  They keep good records.
• Keep a daily log of “iffy” situations
• Keep records safe and keep them forever

2.  They develop good classroom management practices.
• Have relevant, specific rules, and enforce them consistently
• Notice good behavior
• Avoid arguing
• Let angry students vent
• Apologize when they’re wrong
• Observe colleagues

3.  They look for ways to collaborate.
• Seek out mentors and colleagues, and ask for specific advice
• Make opportunities to talk about their work
• Team-teach or co-sponsor projects when they have an opportunity
• Form support or study groups

4.  They advocate for themselves.
• If they know what they need, they ask for it. If they don’t know what they need, they ask for suggestions
• Don’t wait for feedback and don’t assume that no feedback means all is well
• Public education is plagued with limited resources. They may have to insist on their fair share

5.  They understand the role of support staff professionals.
• Blessed are those who befriend the school secretary, the custodian and the computer technician, for their path will be made smooth.
• Treat support staff co-workers as the colleagues they are.
• Respect the fact that support staff co-workers must count their hours differently than teachers.

6.  They stay in touch with parents.
• They make sure parents know them
• Practice good conferencing skills
• Contacts are routine, not only when there’s a problem
• Develop skills to deal with demanding parents

7.  They know the risks associated with physical and personal interactions with students.
• They’re aware of what can happen
• Know when physical contact is specifically permitted
• Avoid comical threats, suggestive comments
• Respect each student’s “space”
• Don’t encourage physical contact

8.  They always stop and think before acting – especially when under stress.
• This is a classroom. Everything counts.



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