Top 10 for new teachers

Sitting here on the verge of my 4th year of teaching I realized I might have juuuuust enough wisdom to pass off a little advice. I am by no means a seasoned veteran. I by no means know what I'm doing. I by no means have all my s... my ducks in a row. However, that terrifying first year was just recent enough that I remember all of the feels. Looking back on it there are a few things I wish I would have known, and a few things I would pat myself on the back for. So here are 10 things I want to tell any first year teacher (and maybe remind myself too):

1. Ignorance is bliss. Embrace it. 

Guess what?? You aren't going to know everything. Stinking EMBRACE it. Looking back on my first year I honestly don't know what those kids learned (hopefully they learned something). I taught from behind my cart a lot of the day. My reading stations were a hot mess. Writing- I literally had NO CLUE how to teach that. There were multiple phonics patterns that I taught wrong and had to then go re-teach. But you know what- I had no clue. I had no clue how badly I was doing. I had no clue of the balls I was dropping. I had no clue of all the areas I needed to improve on. It was amazing. I came in every day and did my best and took whatever was thrown at me. Can I also just say it is amazing to have NO idea what is coming up. Not knowing that I was about to teach the most difficult unit of the year- bliss! Not knowing how stressful the kids bombing middle of year testing would be- bliss! Not knowing all the hours that would be put into random things- bliss. Just embrace not knowing. The more you know the more stressful EVERYTHING gets, and sometimes I wish I could go back to the bliss of taking everything day by day.

2. Get to know your parents

Above all else- know the kid's parents. As a first year teacher, or teacher in your 20's, parents can be intimidating. Building a relationship will be your saving grace. I did this really well with about half of my class my first year, but looking back I wish I would have made more of an effort to get to know all of the parents. I wish I would have called the ones who didn't show up for conferences. I wish I would have personally invited them to open house. I wish I would have gone to their homes and brought dinner. Show them you care, and chances are they will show you they care too. I have learned so many parents don't see education as something they can or should be a part of. Voicing concerns seems strange and coming to meetings is uncomfortable. At first glance you might think they don't care however, I am begging you to look a little deeper. Get to know them, and you just might see that they care, but they don't know how to help or where their place is. Break down that wall and I promise you will gain their trust. Once you have the parent's trust it is amazing to watch the changes that will happen with that child- both academically and behaviorally.
(Also, it never hurts to have a parent on your side. Just sayin...)

3. You have a degree darn it! Fake it till you make it. 

This is kind of a combination of #1 and #2. You don't know it all- that's okay! FAKE IT! Fake it to the kids. Fake it to the parents. Fake it in meetings. Be confident. Smile. Go with your gut. Fake it.
I had no idea what I was doing with behavior kids my first year (and side note- I have my masters in Behavior Analysis and I was STILL scrambling). Every behavior was brand spanking new. You can read text books and write reports all day but when a desk goes flying in your room you will have NO CLUE how to handle it. But here, let me tell you: 1. Stay calm 2. Go with your gut 3. Stick with it 4. Be confident. If you skip just one of those the kids will sniff you out. They will know you are scared to death and they will take over. They will win. DON'T LET THE LITTLE PEOPLE WIN! I feel like so much of my success with behavior my first year was sticking with my gut. I acted like I knew what I was doing. I didn't know, but the kids believed it and my coworkers believed it. Stick with your gut. Same goes for parents. They may have years on you, but you know what they don't have? A little piece of paper saying that you know what the heck you are doing in education! Be confident!
P.S. If your gut is wrong, still stick with it until the little people are gone, go ask for advice, and then stick with their gut. 
P.S.S. If a parent does have that little piece of paper saying they also know what the heck they are doing in education, still be confident. Ask for advice from your administration... a lot, but still be confident. 

4. Memorize your students middle names.

Ohhhhh the power in being able to yell at a kid from across the room using their FULL name. Their eyes will get big. You will see their pupils from a mile away. They will freeze and slllllllowly turn their head. That's right you heard me! It's the very best.
But in all seriousness, memorize their middle names. It also shows that you are invested. You know them and care about them. You took the time to learn something that they haven't told you. For an added bonus, it is really easy to come up with nicknames when you know their middle names. Nicknames are also great for student relationships. It is something that is just between you and them.

5. Don't let the good kids slide into bad behavior

Back to behavior- for this one I want to pat myself on the back. We will all have "that" kid this year. The tough kid that takes up all of your time, breaks every rule, and leaves you wondering if you will show up again tomorrow to take your pathetic excuse for a paycheck. Don't let "that" kid take over the class. It will take some time for you and "that" kid to get on the same page. You are going to have to try a lot of different strategies with "that" kid. "That" kid WILL push you. While they are pushing you 21 other sets of eyes are watching. Watching and waiting to see if they can do it too. DON'T LET THEM. It is going to feel backwards to punish sweet little Haley who never acts up because she copied Nathen who is always acting a fool, but Haley needs to learn that lesson. Don't let Haley off easy. If you do, Haley will do it, then Lucas, then Brooke, then Peyton (please tell me some One Tree Hill fans out there are seeing what I'm doing...) and pretty soon you will have a class of 22 "that" kids. Don't let the good kids slide. Keep them in line and over time you will figure out "that" kid.
P.S. When you figure him out you will love him. Love him big time and love him hard. He will leave a mark on your heart that you never thought possible. Don't give up on him. He needs you. 

6. Make friends

#happyhour. Say yes. Ask when. Ask where. Go with whoever. You are crazy enough to do this job- and it just so happens there are people all around you who understand that crazy. Get to know them. Love on them and laugh with them. They will keep you sane. Put yourself out there are make friends. I cannot begin to tell you how important #6 is. It will save you.

7. Love on the para-professionals

The principal may be the head of the school, but I can promise you the paraprofessionals are the neck... and the legs.... and the arms.... and the heart. Y'all, they need some love. Treat them like the amazing PROFESSIONALS that they are.
Custodians: Introduce your class to them. Call them by name. Teach your kids that they are not their maids.
Cafeteria workers: Make your kids look them in the eyes and say thank you. Tell them to pick up their trash and leave their area better than they found it.
Teacher Aids: Treat them as the teachers they are, not your assistant.
Office Staff: Bring them treats. Tell them you appreciate what they do. Tell them you see how hard they work.
Chances are they take home an even more pathetic excuse of paycheck than you do, so at least give them some love.
P.S. Really, the office staff is the neck of the school. You DON'T want to be on their bad side. Just trust me. Love your office staff and you will reap the rewards later. 

8. Take pictures

I didn't do this nearly enough my first year. Take pictures of anything and everything. Save them and print them off in a book. You will cherish it forever because that first class is one you will never forget.
P.S. One day you will look back on those pictures and say "I had no idea what I was doing, but ahhhhh ignorance was bliss."

9. Don't over prep 

Just don't. You think you are saving yourself time but you aren't. You wont use half of it. Step away from Pinterest. Newsflash: In teaching it really isn't a free for all of crafts and cute ideas. There are standards and usually an actual curriculum. I know shocking- they didn't really explain that very well in college ( I alone there?). Stop prepping and rely on  your teammates as the year goes by.

10. Me time

I feel like a fraud giving you this advice, so really I am giving it to myself because I know it is what I need to hear. Leave time for you. Set a time and GO HOME. It will all be there tomorrow. I promise. The world will not end if you don't label that bin or grade that paper. You need rest and relaxation. You need a life. If you don't leave time for you this job will take over and boyyyyy is it ugly when it does. Let me save you the panic attacks and just say go home. Teaching is one of the top 10 careers with high rates of depression. Eeek, scary right? You aren't superwoman (Kori Markussen- thats right, I am talking to you). You will hit a brick wall if you push yourself too hard. It will hurt.
You can't do it all. That is okay. What you have done is enough, because you are doing it with your heart.

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Let me start by saying I am passionate about my job. I love my students with my whole heart and come to work every day hoping to prepare them for their futures. This does not just mean academics to me. Quite honestly- academics come second in my book (shh... that’s between us). My goal is to help create well rounded children whose hearts and minds are prepared to learn. I believe strongly that this must happen before actual learning can occur. 

So now that you know I am a teacher who works tirelessly, who loves her job, and who comes eager to greet 22 smiling faces each morning, I bet I know what you are expecting. You're expecting to read a blog covered in primary colors, Pinterest perfect lessons and daily gushes over those sweet 22 faces that sit perfectly in their desk, completely engaged in every lesson or activity I give. ERRRRRRR- wrong. THAT IS NOT MY REALITY! 

Let me repeat: 
Not. My. Reality. 

Many days it feels like I am the ring leader of a 12 ringed circus. Crying, screaming, arguing, making deals, and moving clips. It all happens. Jackets lost, papers misplaced, unsharpened pencils, and lessons run long. It all happens. 

Many days, it is anything but pretty in room thirty-nine. But I am here to say that is OKAY! Many days I am on my knees praying that an administrator doesn't walk through my door to see the catastrophe that is my class. Many days I am amazed that a parent hasn't called to complain about the lack of graded papers being sent home (Where are those papers you may ask? They are sitting in the back of my car UNGRADED. The exact same place they have sat for the past 3 weeks). 

Right now, as August is approaching, I am pumped and ready to go. In between the occasional back to school nightmares, I fantasize about the amazing teacher I will be this year. Picture me standing in the front of the room, 20 pounds lighter (This is a fantasy remember), smiling as I kill an engaging hands on activity where all of the kids use their math manipulatives to actually do math- not to sword fight or build a tower. I fantasize about how organized I am going to be this year. How I will ALWAYS be prepared for my lessons and my behavior management is going to be on point. Ahhh, pre-August is just dreamy. Shockingly, it never lasts...

Now, in the January slump I have found myself longing to be an accountant. What I wouldn't give to sit at a desk silently and work. No pressure to be creative or put on a show. You won’t catch me dead saying that in July, but January-Ms. Markussen thinks that some days being an accountant sounds just peachy. When people hear teachers complain about teaching they always seem to go to the kids. "Oh kids these day! There is no parenting! They are wild and get away with so much more than I did when I was a kid..." 
While some of this may be true,  the reason I, and maybe some of y'all, struggle with this career is not the kids. 

It’s the extra- more importantly the extra I put upon myself that wears me down into the ground. In this new age of Instagram and blogging one can get lost in the never ending stream of amazing educators in the world. Every lesson is bright and cheery, filled with hands on games and activities. Of course these lessons come with pictures of students working perfectly by themselves. The blogger/teacher adds a nice little caption about how well everything went and blah… blah…. blah…
I know. I’m sounding pretty cynical right now. I go into reading blogs with all the right intentions. I want to be better. Push myself. Learn from my peers. The first few blogs I read I am pumped with adrenaline and ready to get going. Completely filled with admiration I keep reading. Then, the jealousy sets in. HOW IN THE WORLD IS THIS CLASSROOM LIFE POSSIBLE?! Jealousy quickly turns into a bit of anger which then ends with me picking them apart, in true teenage girl fashion. “Surely they don’t have a life or family”. Shoot, I don’t have a life or family. “Well surely they don’t have (insert sweet-little-nugget-child-who-is-turning-me-gray here) in their class. I bet they also don’t have (Insert sweet-little-nugget-child-who-is-oh-so-not-ready-for-grade-level here) in their class”. Yeah... my list goes on...

As a chronic overachiever when I see all of these amazing lessons and ideas I want to do them. Do them all, and do them perfectly. I want to juggle all 20 balls and make it look easy. I want to be the best part of every teacher I admire, and then push it a little further. Time and time again, I am shocked when all 20 of those balls come crashing down. And when they crash I am DONE. It's all or nothing. I want to be perfect, and if I can't be perfect and do it all like them, then I'm not going to do it at all. Why can't I live a life that looks like their highlight real? Well HELLO, it's not possible! It's not possible for me, and quite frankly its not possible for them. It is a highlight real. While I am sitting here chasing their highlight real, I am throwing away the talents and gifts that I have been given. What a shame. 

So here I am- writing this as the first step to stop my long string of bad habits. There is no point in comparing myself to everyone I admire. This isn't an all or nothing. I can come into this job that I love every day, give it my all, and still be human. I can be a great teacher and make a lot of mistakes. I can do a fantastic lesson without a beautiful staged picture opportunity. I can use and appreciate great ideas from fellow educators and make it work for me. I can be confident in my skills and still have a student that gives me a hard time. I am here to say that I love my job, I love my kids, I put everything into teaching, and probably spend way too many hours at work- however it is far from perfect. And that is okay. 

So welcome to my stories, my truth: the good the bad and everything in between. 

Side note: I apologize to all accountants. I am sure your job is also extremely difficult. 

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