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 come with new buzz words and everybody will use them 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. 

That being said, some of it is good, and you should strive to keep an open mind lest you become cynical and rigid. The bottom line is that there is a delicate balance between implementing new ideas and feeling overwhelmed. Give yourself permission to take a reasonable amount of time to implement new things. 

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
It's okay to push away from your desk at the end of the day and say "I've done enough," and go home.

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. Although in reality you probably shouldn't do that. I mean you will want to do that, but more than likely you will need to access it at some point, so cover your butt and hang onto it. Once you give yourself an attitude adjustment, you can come back to it.