Thursday, April 30, 2015

28 Things Every New Teacher Should Know

1. You can't do it all the first year. Seriously. You will find so many great ideas and be inspired by so many awesome teachers that you cannot possibly find the time to implement every great idea. That's why Pinterest was invented. Simmer down and pace yourself. Summer does not come nearly fast enough.

2. Veteran teachers are watching you. That's right, and they sometimes laugh and shake their heads at you and your big, cheesy enthusiasm. It's not like you think it is though. We were all new teachers once, and we remember feeling and acting like you are acting right now, crazy as you are. I clearly remember silently judging my master teachers because they didn't do this or that according to what I learned in my methods classes. However, you quickly learn that the classroom isn't a laboratory where you can control all the variables. Some of the best learning you will do as a new teacher is by trial and error. It's honest to goodness on the job training that never stops. You think I'm kidding, I know. I'm standing back here smiling and shaking my head as I think to myself "you'll see." You must understand though, I do it as a parent would watch their child. We can help you, and we can mentor you, and we can share our knowledge, but ultimately you have to figure out what works for you. We are watching you, but we want you to succeed and we want to help you. 

3. You will never master teaching. When I say this, I don't mean to discourage you, just to warn you that although you will teach and touch many lives in your career, your students will also teach you and touch your life more than you can imagine. I've never really been an emotionally sappy person, but I have found myself on many occasions  overcome with emotions so strong that I experience this strange mushy, tingly feeling all over my body. It's a wee bit creepy, but nice, in a warm, fuzzy, caterpillar kind of way.

4. Summer does not come nearly fast enough. At times you will feel like you're in a never ending tunnel in which they have turned off the light at the end of the tunnel due to budget cuts, and then the next thing you know you're on the front lawn of the school, waving to the buses as the students are carried away, and dancing and singing at the top of your lungs "School's Out for SUMMER!" You can't even begin to understand what a surreal experience it is to be caught up in the party and then you realize, "OMG, I survived my first year of teaching! When did that happen? How did I get here?!!!" There is no other feeling quite like that last day of school when you've earned your first year survival badge, and you have your whole summer stretched out in front of you.

5. There is no one ideal teaching style. You have to do what works with your personality and what feels right to you. I remember being incredibly worried when a professor told my education class that we should never use sarcasm in the classroom. For me, that was like telling me I had to grow gills because I was going to have to learn how to breath under water.

6. Education is Synonymous with Change. You will realize this at least by your fifth year, sooner if you are more alert than myself. Even before you realize this, you will find yourself leaving every faculty meeting and PLC meeting muttering "Really? One more thing I have to implement that I don't have time for?"

7. The Next Great Thing in Education is a Cyclical Process. Refer to number six above. Every year an amazing new idea will be presented in your PLC that is going to change everything. It will become the new buzz word and everybody will use it ad nauseam in educational conversations. Then next year it will be replaced by something else, and so on, and so forth, until you start seeing the same tired old ideas again, but with new buzz words attached to them.

8. Your work is never done. No matter how hard you work, you will never be completely caught up and there will always be things left undone. Accept it and prioritize. You will have to decide how much is good enough and then leave the rest for tomorrow.

9. You will be wrong and you will try stupid things. We tell our students over and over again that they have to make mistakes in order to learn. The same is true for us. Learn how to admit when you are wrong and your ideas don't work out. You will be surprised at how resilient your students are.

10. Eat lunch in the faculty lounge. You need to get out of your classroom and talk to adults. Talking and laughing with your colleagues is the best stress relief you will find in your school day. Take advantage of it.

11. Make time for yourself. I feel like a hypocrite even writing this, but I know deep down in my heart that it is necessary and so, so important. Try. I beg you.

12. You won't always like your students. It's true, but don't ever, ever let them see it. Fake it until you make it. Sometimes your most annoying students turn out to be the ones that you find a very special place in your heart for. Make an effort to get to know them, and find something that you like about them.

13. Your students won't always like you. Teaching is not a popularity contest. You are not their friend. Being a teacher is a lot like being a parent. You are there to teach them and to help mold them into well-rounded, compassionate, problem solving adults.

14. Teaching is the hardest job on the planet. You won't believe how hard you will work. Pace yourself and get plenty of sleep. You will need it to maintain quick reflexes.

15. Ask for help. You do not need to reinvent the wheel. Ask other teachers for lessons and materials. Most good teachers love to share. I have learned more from other teachers I've worked with than all of my college classes and the Internet combined. Veteran teachers especially are like gold.

16. At times you will have to breath polluted air rich with the stench of body odor. Suck it up, Princess, and stock up on the Scentsy. This is your life now. Trust me, as a teacher in a middle school I always have two Scentsys going at a time. They work.

17. You will laugh every day. Clean air isn't the most important thing. Laughter really is the best medicine, and your students will make you laugh until you wet yourself. I promise.

18. You will spend more money than you thought possible on school supplies. At times you will feel like you are hemorrhaging money.

19. Sometimes you have to say no. Your Administrators will ask you to head committees and do all sorts of things because they know they can depend on you. And you absolutely should do some of those things, but know your limits and don't take on too much.

20. Never pass up an opportunity to use the restroom. If you are walking by a restroom, whether you have to go or not, go in and try. It may be your last chance for the next six hours.

21. Choose your battles. You will experience all types of personalities in your teaching career and not every child, nor adult for that matter, can be dealt with in the same way. Some students absolutely cannot be pushed and you need to know when to step back and give them choices. Decide what is important and what is worth fighting for.

22. If it isn't documented it didn't happen. Document, document, document. You will have to prove which interventions you have used on students, what behavior you have witnessed, what was or wasn't turned in, etc., etc. Find a system that works for you and document everything. Ask other teachers in your school how they document and you will save yourself hours upon hours of time. Refer to number fifteen above.

23. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes it isn't, but it is one of the most enjoyable parts of Parent-Teacher conferences. 

24. Despite federal legislation, some students choose to be left behind. You can lead a child to knowledge, but you cannot make them think.

25. Helicopter parents are alive and well. Although they can be bothersome, at least they are involved and you have to give them credit for that. Depending on the demographics of the school where you teach, you may find that uninvolved parents are a much bigger problem.

26. You will not make enough money to live on. Marry well. A large number of teachers have second jobs. Frankly, I don't know how they do it. Referring back to number eight, I can't even finish this job, let alone keep another one on the side. I am fortunate to have married well.

27. Sometimes your students are smarter than you. They don't have to know that though. Fake it until you make it. What works for me are exclamations such as:
"Tell me more about that!"
"What were you thinking when you got that answer?"
"Explain your thought process"
 or a simple, but genuine "Amazing!" can work wonders. Also, make sure you pay attention and take notes. Don't let anyone see though. Rely on Siri.

28. You will not be able to teach everything your students need to know before they take their standardized tests. Do not panic, stress out, or freak out. Your students will smell your fear and react accordingly. Teach them what you can in a calm, organized manner and let the rest go. Stress doesn't help anyone perform better on tests.

28. Sometimes you just have to smile, walk into your classroom, close the door, and teach what you know you should be teaching. No one has to know you just deep sixed that PLC binder you just received in the faculty meeting.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Throwing in the Towel

It was with a very heavy heart today that I stepped into my Principal's office and submitted my letter of resignation for the 2015-2016 school year. Many of you have left comments and encouraging words, on this blog and on Facebook.  I can't tell you how much those comments have meant to me. I read each and every one multiple times, and I took every comment to heart. So many of you poured out your hearts and shared your own frustrations with your teaching jobs. Many of you have left for the same reasons I have given.

Several of you have asked how I've been managing, and I really wish I could be a good example of a teacher sticking it out. I tried. I really did. I gave this job everything I had and then a little bit more.

I was doing okay for at least six weeks, leaving by 5:30 and not bringing work home. The only exception is Sundays. Sundays are still filled with planning for the week ahead, and often it's done at school, away from my family. I find myself feeling more and more resentment towards the time I spend on the weekends preparing for the week ahead. The time I spend away from or disconnected from my family.

I suppose I could just not do it, sure. Except, I know myself, and I'm not the type of person that flies by the seat of her pants. I'm a control freak. I need to feel prepared before I stand in front of a classroom of students on Monday morning. I'm not comfortable with not having my ducks in a row.

So as much as I tried to turn it around and make a positive change, I've decided to let go. I'm going to finish out this year and enjoy everything I love about my job for the next ten weeks. I'm going to savor every moment I have left with my students.

That might creep them out, but hey, what fun, right?

I want to focus on the good. I don't want to leave my profession with bitterness, although I'm not going to lie, I have felt bitter at times.

I will miss the kids. This awkward age group especially. They are caught between childhood and adulthood, awkwardly navigating friendships and crushes. Their personalities are so varied and amazing. I marvel at the things they do and say every day. For those of you that are parents, you should know that teachers really do appreciate and love their students very much like you do. We notice them. We appreciate their uniqueness. And yes, we are proud of them. When the year is over and they move on, we miss them.

I will miss my teacher friends and everyone else I work with. As adults in a middle school, so many of us are immature ourselves, and I love that. We joke around every day. We laugh until we wet ourselves and make snorty noises. We scare our students when we behave strangely and that makes it even funnier.

I will miss the school supplies. I have always had a special place in my heart for brand new school supplies.

I will miss hearing students say "Oh, I get it now!" Even if sometimes it is closely followed by "Nope. Gone now."

I will miss bossing people around who are taller than me. I'm not gonna lie. Some days it makes me feel powerful to give a six foot tall basketball player a tongue lashing and then have him give me a sincere apology. I know it's wrong, but it does feel good. Even though these kids are at a very self-centered age, most of them really do not want to disappoint us.

I will miss writing on my beautiful, gleaming white, whiteboards with chisel tip dry erase markers.

I will miss watching my students grow from the first day I see them in September to the last day I see them in June. Academically, socially, and vertically. It's very rewarding.

I will miss trolling for new foldables, curriculum, lessons, and classroom decorations.

I will miss setting up my classroom every year.

I will miss reading teacher blogs and getting ideas and inspiration from them. I don't think I will be able to continue reading teacher blogs because I'm afraid it will hurt too much.

I will miss meeting my students' parents and seeing their features and mannerisms mirrored in adult-sized, responsible citizens.

I know there is so much more I will miss, and I'm going to be looking for the things I will miss over these last ten weeks. I thought about making a list of the things I will not miss, but that just sounds like such a gigantic buzz kill, so I'll decline.

There are still a lot of teacher related things I have wanted to share, so I'll try and get those posted before the end of the school year. A "What Has Worked for Me" post of sorts.

For those of you sticking it out and hanging in there, my thoughts are with you. I love, appreciate, and admire all of you. I hope you will be able to hold the frustration and discouragement at bay, like I have not been able to do.

Thank you all for your comments and good wishes. I appreciate them more than words can express. As we drag our gnarly carcasses through these last weeks of school, May the Force be With You.
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