Looking back at my first day of teaching, I have to think, oh, little naïve one, so full of ideas and hopes. How dashed you will be when you realize that teaching isn’t always the makings of a movie script. I pat my own head in my mind.
If I were to offer new teacher any advice, it would be as follows:
1) Running your own classroom is nothing like what you see in the movies. Students are not going to file in your room, stand upon their desks and utter ‘Oh Captain, My Captain!’ ala ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ style. After a month, they are not going to play your Opus, Mr. Holland. You might be lucky if you get a ‘To Sir, With Love’ mug at the end of the year. These movies and all those about teaching such as ‘Dangerous Minds’ and ‘Stand and Deliver’ are fantastic and uplifting. They show what CAN happen in some classrooms with the right teachers and the students who respond. However, they are not the status quo and you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you feel a day isn’t notable. You will have some amazing days, where you go home and feel that you made a difference and all is right with the world. Just be prepared that some days, you’d like to crawl under a rock instead.
2. Be prepared for anything, like a Boy Scout. We joke where I work that the only consistency we have is inconsistency. Don’t invest so much emotional time into an activity that you can’t change or move it at a moment’s notice. For example, I was the dance team sponsor for a while and we were to have a Pep Rally on Thursday. The day of the planned rally, it was cancelled and rescheduled for the following week. Annoying? Yes. Was I mad? You betcha, but that’s just what happens sometimes. Same thing for tests. You can plan a test and have review sheets distributed and then, on the day of the test, you have a fire drill or an evacuation. You have to be able to pick back up where you left off without thinking that ‘everything is ruined now!’ Sob!
3. Sometimes your best laid plans, don’t work, at all. Ask for help. When I started teaching, I used a poker chip system to reward behavior. Good behavior = chip, bad behavior = I take a chip. Problem? The kids stole the chips. They wrote on them. They brought some from home to try to fool me. I had to change my approach after a few trials, admit that this idea stunk, and find something new. You will find what works for you through trial and error. Ask other teachers what they do for bathroom passes, behavior issues, homework, etc. and they will be happy to tell you what’s worked for them. Don’t use something that clearly isn’t effective because you don’t want to ask for help. Also, don’t use my chip idea. Pain in the butt.
4. Make friends with the custodians. These folks know all, see all, hear all. They know where extra desks are located, where paint can be found to fix the door chips, and they have the carts and buggies to haul around your heavy stuff. Search out the one in your building, introduce yourself, and always be nice. Your floors might end up a little shinier.
5. Stay away from the front office. Some people may disagree with me on this one, stating that the people there are willing to help you and that they’re there for you! Not that front office folk can’t be friendly, but they have their own things to do. They probably don’t have time to hear your concerns on the bathrooms, or how little Johnny won’t stop talking. Many of them are busy fielding parent requests, completing invoices, making phone calls about absentees, dealing with a kid that brought drugs to school, etc. It’s not that your concerns aren’t important. The thing is, if you can talk them over with someone else, like a department head, that would probably be a better idea than becoming a fixture next to the Assistant Principal’s office.
6. If at all possible, get yourself a classroom refrigerator to store your food if your District allows it. Lunch at my school was once pretty good. Then, with recent government changes in nutrition requirements, I would rather eat a stale biscuit half gnawed on by vicious garden gnome. Some schools have catering (not that I’m all that jealous…well, maybe a little…okay a lot) and I hear the teacher meals are decent. Ask other teachers and see what the consensus is. We used to celebrate Fish Stick Fridays with Facebook invites because we so looked forward to the Mac & Cheese and Broccoli salad. Those days are gone and this past year, because I’d not yet bought a refrigerator, I ate Nutella straight out of the jar for a week for lunch. A little Nutella goes a long way. (My friends would say I just uttered blasphemy).
7. Have back ups of your back ups. Always keep your lessons and lesson plans backed up. You never know when your District will get a virus. I’ve had one twice in 6 years and had I not had a copy of everything on my home computer, I would have been hiding in the closet, crying and mumbling incoherently. Invest in one or two memory sticks and always try at least once a month to back up any files you worked on. Better safe than sorry. 8. Don’t allow other teachers to overwhelm you. They mean well, but sometimes they might try and share everything they’ve collected in 25 years with you in 1 day. Take the information, put it to the side, and look through it when you have time. Remember, you will find your own groove and way of doing things. Not one teacher is the same and therefore, not one teacher teaches exactly the same. Take a deep breath, perhaps drink some wine like my coworkers do (one said she drank straight out of the box in the bathroom at home and cried after a hard day), and remember, every day is a new day and you can make it if you take baby steps.
9. Some of your students will never like you. Accept it. Do you like every single person you’ve ever met? Then why expect every single students to like you and your class? You could have done nothing wrong, have always been friendly and they still won’t like you. They may have come in with preconceptions about you based on a person they know who knows a person who knows a person who went to school with you, etc. They may not care for your discipline, call your class dumb, or just not be interested in your subject area. This doesn’t make you a bad teacher. You have to think of all the students who DO like you, who DO like coming to your class and who ARE involved in the learning. It’s hard to accept sometimes, but occasionally, those kids who you thought never liked you will see you in town years later, and tell you how much they enjoyed your class. Weird.
10. When you have a chance to go to a state or national conference, GO! You will get some great ideas, meet other people in your field, be able to discuss concerns with testing, etc. and earn credits for your license at the same time. I once went to the National Convention for Science in New Orleans, and my coworker, who loved Bill Nye, found out he was the guest speaker and kept chasing him around yelling ‘Bill Nye! Bill Nye!’. Good times.
11. Every time you see a sale on school supplies, it never hurts to throw a couple of extra things in your basket. Yes, we don’t get paid a lot to teach. Yes, we have our own families to care for. The kids you will teach, however, will also become an extended part of your life, and you will think of them as ‘my kids’. As you know, some kids can’t afford an extra box of crayons, or a zipper bag when theirs breaks. Sure, they have some access to supplies at the beginning of the year through some school programs, but once those are gone, should they be left with nothing? The first time you have to watch a kid color with map pencils that are so short they can no longer be sharpened, and you know from having them in class that they have no money and are on free lunches, will be the last time you second guess yourself about throwing a box of map pencils for $.99 in your buggy. You don’t do it for the money, and if you have a little to use in this way, it will bless someone, and bless you in return.
I could go on and on about advice I would give, and might even have to make this a two-part post. Remember, it’s about you finding your mojo and using your special gifts to inspire and teach the leaders of tomorrow. Smile and be happy this week!