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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 03/ 7/2011

Teachers tell: One thing I wish I'd known

By Valerie Strauss

Here are some of the answers that teachers gave to this question: “What was one thing you wished you’d known when you started teaching?”

The query was posed on the “Whole Child Blog” of ASCD, an educational leadership organization with more than 170,000 educator members in 136 countries.

Some of the responses are below, and you can see more here. The answers -- which are republished below as they appeared on the website -- hit on what ASCD believes are crucial elements in effective teaching and learning.


tegan zimmerman henry
i wish i’d known that the classroom community runs the smoothest when kids are allowed to speak freely, choose their learning topics and enjoy their learning environment to the fullest.

Laurie K
to never plan in-depth for the whole week. There are too many pull-outs, assemblies, snow days and lessons that just take much longer than you expected to complete – which throws off your whole planning schedule!

Jodi Johnson
I wish I had known more about school boards, administration and the down side of being a public employee. It is very dis-heartening to see teachers bashed in the community for simply doing what we love to do. I also wished I would have know more about Responsive Classroom, I think if I could have incorporated morning meeting into my first year, it would have been a much better school year :)

Rachel Stevens
I wish I had known the importance of teaching children how to care for and respect each other and their classroom. I knew it was important, but never learned how to do it as a new teacher.

John Tarpey
Teaching is 10% instruction and 90% “caregiver.” Students need to know you care about them all day, every day!

I wish I’d known how important it is to connect with each and every child, no matter how annoying they seem. Always look for the good in every child. They need to know someone cares.

Evangeline Burgers
I wish I had known that it is okay to leave some things unfinished for the next day.

Talking to students in an age appropriate but honest and real way makes them feel respected and valued. We have some great conversations in my third grade class!

I wish I’d known not to engage with students arguing with me. State my expectation succinctly and not get into a conversation.

Sue Eisenberg
I wish I had known that the best way to establish rules was through modeling.

Janet Gannon
I wish I’d known that going to school is like going to work — students want to have a good day, have their “boss” like them and encourage them, feel productive, and have a little time “at the water cooler” to be with other students.

I wish I’d known to relish the fun times more{hellip}not be so serious about “learning” only. I try to have fun more now! I’m more relaxed and I think kids learn better when their teacher isn’t totally stressed.

I wish I had known the power of well-timed, well-directed, meaningful praise.

Alison Seefeldt
I wish I’d known more strategies for building classroom community during my first year of teaching.

I wish I had known so many things ... that tomorrow is another day, that I am allowed to be human, that a relationship goes a long way, and how much is misunderstood about what we do.

Cindy Kruse
I wish I had known and understood the need that we all have for belonging, significance, and fun! I wish I had followed my heart more and worried about testing less. I wish that I had known how important it is for teachers and students to take the time to stop and reflect on their teaching and learning.

Tonia Allen
I wish I would have known that I was going to care so much about other kids, other than my own, and that I would be taking each one of them home with me daily, on the weekends, during breaks and summer vacations.

I wished I’d known that at times your heart will break. :(

That taking the time to get to know the child and having a conversation with him/her is more important to the child’s growth than the guided reading lesson that is on the lesson plans.


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By Valerie Strauss  | March 7, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Teachers  | Tags:  learning, teachers, teaching techniques  
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Allow me to join the party. Having now taught 9th, 10th, and 11th grade English, I wish I had known how badly students want to express themselves in words. The few students who regularly run away from these assignments only do so because they are afraid of stark correction marks judging their thoughts. I would have used red ink less and an open ear more.

I recently blogged on some of my "lessons learned," and I invite your readers to visit the entry at

Posted by: dcproud1 | March 7, 2011 6:37 AM | Report abuse

When I started teaching fifth grade in Cleveland in the sixties, I had forty students in the class. Among these children were several who could barely read. I had no idea how to help these nonreaders and still regret that to this day. So I wish I had known how to teach reading to children who might have had learning disabilities.

The fault of my lack of preparedness was with a district and state that allowed people to teach without full qualifications or experience. This only happened in urban districts and still continues to this day in cities like the District of Columbia. I hope parents and other citizens insist on fully qualified teachers for all students.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | March 7, 2011 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Yes, students, like other workers, want to "have a little time 'at the water cooler' to be with other students." Yet Ed Linz, of West Springfield High School, objects to the 90-minute weekly period at that school, designed to provide time for students to seek help, because not all of the students are working hard during this time (Class Struggle: "Is high school recess a waste?" Sun. Feb. 6, 2011). And many of the commentors seemed to agree that students should have no free time at all during school or felt that the three minutes they have to change classes was sufficient to hold a conversation with a friend. I once saw a textbook advising kindergarten teachers to include lessons in counting during the snack or lunch time--presumably the same teachers who firmly guard their own lunch periods. And a western school that adopted a 4-day week and saw absenteeism drop and grades rise was criticized by people who said life was constant work and the early a kid learned that the better.

I remember being surprised in college at how much spare time I had, even though there was so much more studying to do

Let's cut the kids a little slack--just as we want a little.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | March 7, 2011 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I wish I'd known how important listening to the kids is. Really listening without giving unasked for advice.

Posted by: georgia198305 | March 7, 2011 12:24 PM | Report abuse

I wish I would have known that with a Ph.D., 10 years experience teaching at the university, a publication record, etc. I would not meet the "highly qualified" criteria necessary to teach in public schools. So, while I cannot enter the K-12 program to directly work with the kids, I am teaching several "college prep" courses to them when they enter into the university so that they can continue into our real programs.

Posted by: stoic009 | March 7, 2011 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Praise goes a long way in a student's life. Looking for the positive in even the most negative of students. Listening to their voice, allowing them to be heard creates mutual respect, which in turn, allows me to be heard. Without it, kids do not connect with you; if they don't connect, they don't learn.
This from a high school English and history teacher with 7 years experience, and it took more than the first year to learn the above...

Posted by: jay_thompson | March 8, 2011 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I wish I would have know that now, at the peak of my 21 years of teaching, keeping up with my professional development, graduate level education in the specialty areas of my field, and the implementation of best practice for all of my stduents, I would be completely devalued and denigrated by the leadership of our profession and our country. I wish I would have known that the people who allowed the mismanagement and appropriation of funds would now be making knee-jerk decisions to undermine all that I as well as thousands around me, have dedicated our lives and our emotional energy to creating. I wish I would have known that the thousands of hours I have spent during and in addition to the the concratual school day, creating encouraging relationships with students, reviewing materials, contacting counselors, parents, granparents, etc. to attempt to guide children in a positive direction for their lives would now be completely negated and ignored unless it can be computated and measured within a scan-tron test. For ANYONE to suggest that class size and personal contact time, one on one teacher to student, does not equate to achivement success in learning outcomes is simply ignorant. These are people who are educators who are lying through their teeth at the exsistance majority of valid reasearch through educational history OR they simply do not have ANY expertise in education at all. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME on those who think this is the right approach to assisting the US with racing to the top.

Posted by: mcoffeysears | March 8, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I wish I had known how many children just need to feel cared for in order to become successful. I wish I had known how difficult it would be and how often my heart would break for my students.

Posted by: Aross7 | March 9, 2011 8:49 AM | Report abuse

I've been in education since 1974. Wow! What would I have changed? I think if I had known how to better serve ESL students my first little EL from Vietnam would have had an easier time. There just wasn't any help or support at that time I could tape into,or at least, I didn't know of any. The thing is, if I had known and used ESL strategies, all of my students would have benefited, being more successful.
I would have enjoyed my students more. Be less critical and more understanding. More supportive of the parents who were struggling to do the right things but just didn't have the tools or money they needed. I would have asked advise and support from my colleagues instead of being afraid of looking like I couldn't do my job. I would have laughed, cried, and listened to the world around me and used what I learned to teach, not just supply knowledge. There's a difference.

Posted by: platham1 | March 9, 2011 10:10 AM | Report abuse

There are two things that I learned that are aspects of the comments. The most important things that I learned about being a successful teacher I learned from my students. The second was the development mutual non-judgmental respect with each student.

Posted by: LaserArtsMan | March 9, 2011 3:26 PM | Report abuse

There are two underlying aspects in the comments that I found to be the most important aspect of my teaching career. First was mutual respect of myself that I could build upon and share with my students. The second was what I learned from my students about their social and intellectual development at the time and how we could build upon that information.

Posted by: LaserArtsMan | March 9, 2011 3:36 PM | Report abuse

The most important thing I learned is that it's okay to revamp systems and create new ones. At the end of my third year teaching, I'm realizing that effective teaching means changing what you have if it does not work. I have also learned to take more of a positive approach with students (i.e. rewarding students for high-achievement, good behavior) and ignoring the ones not meeting expectations has improved the classroom environment for the better.

Posted by: as1986 | March 9, 2011 8:17 PM | Report abuse

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