This week is Teacher Appreciation Week (and Nurse Appreciation Week! God bless all of you angels!), and although I’m not in the classroom right now, it still got me thinking about my previous years of teaching and all of the students that have sat in my classroom.
Every teacher remembers their first year of teaching. It is scary, exciting, stressful, joyful, and above all, rewarding. At the end of that year, despite all of the tears you shed and the tough lessons learned, you step back, fold your arms and think, “Yes. I did something great. I did something important.” You learn a lot that first year and grow a much stronger backbone than you had before. And with every year thereafter you become a little better, a little wiser, and a little more confident in the craft.
So what are some of those lessons I learned?
- Teaching is hard. It takes up most of your time. And if you let it, can take over everything. It took me having a child to realize that I didn’t have to stay up at school until 6 pm every night to get my students to learn something.
- Being organized is crucial! Lakeshore and Dollar Tree are a teacher’s best friends.
- Don’t take attacks from parents personal. More than likely most of your parents will be wonderful, but you will run into a crazy every now and then. My first year I had a parent barge into my classroom and begin yelling at me in front of my students because I marked his kid tardy. I burst into tears and it shook me up for the rest of the week. I was a softy, but after a few years I finally accepted that I was competent, I was good at what I did, and no one could convince me otherwise.
- Do not keep pillows in your classroom. Lice is no joke.
- It is okay to say no. It’s so easy to overextend yourself as a teacher, especially your first year. You jump in with both feet ready to save the world! Christmas musical? Sure! School improvement committee? Absolutely! Reorganize the library? I can definitely do that! Don’t worry….your school world will keep on turning if you aren’t involved in every single thing.
- A principal can make or break a school (mine totally made it!).
- Finding colleagues you get along with incredibly well is a gift from God, so don’t take it for granted. Laugh with them, confide in them, vent to them…they are truly the only ones that will understand what you are going through your first year. My first year teaching buddies are still good friends of mine.
- Ask questions! My first year I kind of sunk into the back row during faculty meetings afraid to ask questions because I thought I might look stupid, which is ridiculous. Ask the questions. If you are assigned a mentor teacher, take advantage of it and ask away. Even if the question is ‘How do you print double sided on this copier?’ ASK QUESTIONS!
- Some kids out there need more than teaching. They need parental love. They need peace. They need to laugh. They need to learn to trust. They need a safe haven. They need consistency. They need boundaries. They need to hug someone. They need to smile. They need a hand to hold. They need to talk things out. They need someone to believe in them.
- I am not a miracle worker, nor a magician, nor a savior. The first school I taught at will always and forever hold a special place with me. It is an amazing place that is fully devoted to helping children not only learn but survive. (Shout out to all my John Adams peeps!) They provide so much in addition to an education. The two years I taught there gave me a very different perspective on what teaching means. Many of the students I taught needed so much love. I gave as much as I absolutely could those two years. When I left the second year to move to Japan it killed me. I cried a lot. I prayed for them a lot. I worried about them a lot. I was invested 110% in those kids and when I left all I could do was hope they would find their way. I wanted to put a bubble around them to keep them safe. I wanted to ingrain in them the belief that they could do anything and be anything they wanted. Some believed it, others didn’t. I tried very hard, and when you try that hard you put an enormous amount of pressure on yourself. You want to save every child. You want them to all reach their potential, make good decisions, and put blinders on to all of the crap they will face…especially when the odds are against them. You do what you can, but sometimes it is not enough. You have to learn to release yourself from that responsibility. That was a very tough lesson for me to learn.