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With the new release of Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Stop Apologizing, I was inspired to write a blog post that held the same spirit but was directly for teachers. I asked many of my teacher friends and acquaintances from around the world to chime in on what was weighing on their own hearts… things they wished they no longer needed to apologize for as an educator of the nation’s youth. Here are the ideas that came streaming back to me.
Teacher, Get Your Graduate Degree – But We Can’t Pay You Enough to Cover Your Monthly Loan Payment
The majority of responses that came flooding back to me revolved around the low salary that most teacher’s make, especially starting off their careers. Reading through their words, it was clear that every single one of these people had an overwhelming passion for education and yet were extremely frustrated with the sky-high loan payments that were required to engage in this career path.
Long gone are the days were school districts offer to pay for a teacher’s Graduate Degree, and so this financial burden has been placed on teachers’ shoulders. Many teachers earning a single-income reported having to move back in with their parents in order to be able to make their required payments. Those with multiple income-streams admitted to relying heavily on their spouse’s income in order to make ends meet.
It goes without saying that most of the teachers I personally know have some side hustle going to help them pay those bills! Even though it isn’t ideal nor easy, I want to let those of you who fall under that category know – you are amazing, courageous and incredibly resilient human beings. If no one has told you lately, then I will tell you – I am SO proud of you and every damn thing you have overcome. I’ve been there, and man… do I know that it is HARD.
Teacher, Have High Expectations… But Not Too High
When a teacher first begins working at a district, they must determine what their district’s expectations are and adjust their own accordingly. Yep, you read that right. Multiple teachers wrote that expectations for students (in the same grade) were entirely different depending on which district they were teaching at. Imagine how confusing that might be for a student who changes districts?
One teacher wrote that one district appreciated and admired him for having high expectations and holding students to those expectations. He made rules and procedures clear, and students who misbehaved or broke procedure were held accountable. He then married his wife, and they decided to move closer to her family. He transferred to a district closer to their new home.
This district had extremely vocal parents who would question many of the decisions of that same teacher. He came to school weekly to angry parent emails, students who blatantly did not follow the rules and threatened to turn HIM in to the principal, and a principal who was trying to merely smooth things over to avoid a lawsuit rather than back the teacher.
The message that many teachers have been getting is that they must have high expectations in their classrooms until one of the students or their parents do not agree – then they must adjust their expectations. Without guidelines, many teachers wrote in to say that they are hesitant to draw a hard line with high expectations for fear of being reprimanded or losing their job.
Teacher, Implement All New Policies and Curriculum Without Question
Anyone who has been in the education world for a few years understands that new policies and curriculum are a dime a dozen. Once teachers get used to one way of teaching, a new administration comes in and deems something else more effective for reaching students. It is a constant merry-go-round of merely trying to stay afloat with the changes.
One middle school teacher wrote in to say that she wished that teacher voices were actually heard by the ones making decisions about policies and curriculum. She politely stated that she and her fellow teachers are the ones on the front lines, testing the material and seeing how beneficial (or not) it was for their students. Who else has more wisdom to discuss what should be kept or discarded than the ones actually working with the new enactments? While some states are listening more to teachers, there are many areas that seem to be failing to take the opinions of their educators into account.
Teacher, You Must Also Be Your Student’s Parent
This expectation gave me some goosebumps and made me quite humbled. While only a few teachers wrote in on this expectation, they wrote with such fervor that I can only assume that there are other teachers out there who also are feeling the pressure in this area.
One teacher from a low-income, rural school in Oklahoma has six students in their homeroom class alone with both parents who are incarcerated. These students are either living with their grandparents or are jumping from house to house, sleeping on friend’s or relative’s couches. This teacher also has students with at least one parent who is facing addiction to narcotics. These students have confided that some nights they do not know where their mom/dad/guardian went, and are unsure when they will return.
When we have students who literally have limited or no parenting, the expectation is that teachers will become a stand-in parent for those students. Teachers should instill in them positive character traits, straighten out their attention-seeking behavior, provide love and support, make sure they are completing work outside of school… all while teaching the curriculum they are mandated to teach, according to their job descriptions. Even if there are parents in the home, sometimes respect for others or positive character traits are not being instilled in the student, which is leaking into their behaviors in the classroom.
While most educators have hearts of gold that are ten sizes bigger than any other human being on the planet, it is not their responsibility to parent their students. Now, I know there are educators right now who are cursing my name, angrily inquiring, “If we don’t help them, who will?”. I say this respectfully, but this is not our burden to take on. Should we keep showing up for them every single day and being a shining example of what an adult should be? Absolutely! Should we keep encouraging them, holding them responsible, and giving them opportunities to succeed? Of course. While we all love our students beyond anything in the world, and want so badly for them to succeed, we cannot take the place of their parent(s).
Teacher, That Student Is Failing… What Are YOU Doing Wrong?
A veteran teacher who had enjoyed teaching for over twenty years wrote that the day she quit her job was the day her principal called her into his office, showed her a student’s failing grades, and asked her, “What are you doing to get this student passing?” This topic links back up to our earlier topic of having high expectations but not being too demanding.
There seems to have been a shift of responsibility within the last decade. Rather than students being responsible for getting in their work and doing well in their classes, there is now an expectation that students do what they will and teachers will pick up the slack to get them passing. I have seen time and time again, students who do poorly in ALL of their classes, yet their parent attends a conference and demands to know what the teachers are doing that is causing their child to be so unsuccessful. I can feel you all nodding your heads – we’ve seen this story played out so many times.
It is worth noting that several teachers wrote in to say that they felt they cared more about their students’ grades than the students did.
Teacher, Work During Your Non-Contract Hours
Without a doubt, this topic FLOODED my inbox. Teachers who are done, absolutely DONE, with feeling guilt for not working during non-contract hours adamantly wrote their frustrations with this ridiculous expectation placed on educators. No other career that pays in this scale requires such commitment (for no extra pay, either). This topic could be divided into three categories.
Teachers should care more about other people’s children than their own.
This one broke my heart. Absolutely, hands-down, I had tears in my eyes reading some of the stories that educators are living. For whatever reason, society as a whole has placed this expectation on teachers. Teachers must give up their time that should be spent making memories with their own children, spouse, and family members to keep up with running their classroom.
I would add to this, that teachers are expected to care about other people’s children even more than their own HEALTH. I cannot tell you how many times I personally would skip meal planning on a Sunday in order to finish grading that pile of essays because of this overwhelming teacher guilt I felt about somehow not providing enough feedback for my students. I could just throw together a lunch for tomorrow, and figure out the rest of the week as it came, right? My best friend stopped going to the gym for an entire WEEK in order to create a brand new unit around a novel for her 6th grade students because she knew it would reach them more than her previous plans would.
Was that her choice? Sure. But why do most educators make moves like that? Because they feel this enormous pressure to constantly be on their A-game for the students they adore. Unfortunately, their own health takes a back seat. I’m sure you all know what that leads to… and it isn’t beneficial for ANYONE.
Teachers will keep up with grading, planning, providing feedback, answering parent and co-worker email… even if it requires non-contract hours to complete. Don’t complain, teachers, you get great benefits & summers off.
In the popular slang of today, I first want to say, “Them’s fightin’ words”. Aside from pulling teachers away from family or their own health, this is one of the most damaging expectations placed on educators. NEVER should a professional be expected to work outside contractual hours without additional pay. Period. A set calendar is agreed to at the beginning of the year, with a set number of days, with set contractual hours. Those benefits, holidays and summers off were all calculated in when determining initial salary.
The additional 5-20 hours that MOST teachers are putting in on weeknights, weekends, and other time off are ADDITIONAL. As in, not included in their original agreed-upon hours. As in, additional pay would be given for any other professional job for additional work. Teachers, for the love of all that is education, do NOT allow anyone to tell you that great benefits and summers off is compensation for sacrificing time with your family.
Teachers will learn how to use the newest technology and apps, as well as how to implement them into their lessons… but during their non-contract time.
Some schools offer PD days where they get a chance to explore new technology on a surface level. They are exposed to new apps, websites, gadgets, everything that may intrigue their students enough to want to learn. However, several teachers wrote in that they were not given time to implement the new technology into their lessons, and test them out. Thus, either their students became their guinea pigs for these new technologies, or they had to do research and testing on their own time. AKA, non-contractual time. Some teachers are even observed on how well they implement new technology into their lessons!
In perfect Rachel Hollis-style, I’ll give some tangible advice that may help educators who are feeling immense pressure to perform under these expectations. If you are a veteran teacher, you may already be a pro at these. If you are a brand-new teacher, take some notes and make your transition into your teaching career a bit easier.
Most Important Behavior: Learn How to Say No
If you are a people-pleaser, this will be the most difficult, yet a game-changing step for you to take. Learn what your expectations are for yourself, have a discussion with your administration about their specific expectations for your job performance, and then act accordingly. While parents, students, and the community will all have expectations of you as a teacher, you are the final determiner of what you allow – and what you don’t.
Stop trying to keep up with the Pinterest-perfect teachers you’re creeping on on social media, or trying to assign multiple writing assignments that all require you to provide HOURS of feedback for your students. Be smart. Keep the activities that are exceptional, and toss out the rest. Say no to perfection and over-achieving constantly, and say yes to the fun events going on during non-contractual hours with your friends and family.
Also, learn what extra duties to take on, and which ones to say no to. If admin or a co-worker asks you to be the coach to an athletic team or start a club, if it’s not a Hell Yes, then it’s a big, fat no. I know you want to be involved in your district. Make sure you’re only investing your time in things that light your soul on fire. That’s not being selfish. Accepting the role of Drama Club Director, even though you HATE choreography and designing sets is being selfish. Someone else could take that role of Director and bring LIFE into that program. You? Who hate everything about Drama Club? Well, you may stifle or extinguish a student’s love for that simply because your heart isn’t in it. Learn to say yes to only the things that ignite you, too.
Remember, this is your job, not your whole life.
Internal Behavior: Learn That You Are Enough
I keep seeing this post floating around the internet that says that teachers make more split-second decisions in one day than brain surgeons. Now, I haven’t seen the research to back that up but from experience, it certainly FEELS correct.
Teachers make magic during the school day, changing the lives of so many students every year. And each year, those same teachers get a new cohort, and work their magic again. Kids are learning, growing, heading towards their own futures, all because of the work that teachers put in to guide them on their path. It is no easy feat, treading the line between teacher and mentor, yet we all do so to the best of our ability.
Learn to whole-heartedly accept that at the end of the day, you were enough. This does not mean that you should give every ounce of your energy to your job so that you return home at night too emotionally-vacant to be an exceptional person, spouse, parent or relative. I spent a few weeks this year giving all of my emotional energy to a rowdy group of seniors, and then would come home with zero patience when my puppy acted like… well… a puppy. One night I yelled at her when she was asking for attention, and she just stared at me with those pitiful, beautiful eyes of hers. I knew in that moment that I needed to stop giving so much of myself at work, so I could give more of myself to the ones I loved.
Sacrificing everything you have for your job does not make you a superhero. It makes you tired, and unfulfilled in the other aspects of your life. Close your classroom door each day with a smile on your face, take a deep breath, and know that you make a difference… especially when you work within your contractual hours. Education is not a sprint, it is a marathon, and if you plan to stay within the profession for longer than a few years, you will need to treat each day as such.
External Behavior: Draw Boundaries
You may want to identify where you are feeling the heaviest amount of expectation, and make moves to ease that pressure.
Some teachers were receiving emails from parents that had them feeling cornered. Send out a newsletter to parents that updates them on what is going on in your classroom, and subtly include a nice box at the bottom that states your new office hours, which is the ONLY time that you respond to emails. Purposefully make your office hours every other day, so that you have a grace-period to 1. Cool down if the parent was rude 2. Do any research or seek guidance from admin over a difficult situation 3. You’re just plain BUSY in your personal life and don’t have the emotional energy to write a response that day.
Then, STICK TO YOUR OFFICE HOURS (aside from emergencies, obviously) NO MATTER WHAT. At first, parents may be upset. However, when they see that you are keeping a reasonable attitude, expecting them to remain professional as well, and holding firm to your own hours, they will come around. Sometimes, we teachers need to also have high expectations of parents when it comes to professional discourse and respecting our own time.
Parents were making comments on teachers’ social media accounts about their activities outside of school. Delete, delete, delete. Parents who are judgmental in any way of your private time, delete them from your account. In fact, unless a parent is a close, family friend, I would delete all parents from your social media. Look, I know you want to have community ties and to develop relationship with parents. But, let’s be real. No parent needs to know THAT much about their child’s teacher. In fact, it is asking for some trouble. If you are experiencing expectations from social media peeping… start to thin the herd.
Teachers were being passive-aggressively asked to take on extra duties by admin.
This is one that teachers experience quite often and one that must be handled professionally. Whether it is by your Superintendent or your Principal, it can be intimidating. If your admin “suggests” you take on an extra duty that you aren’t yelling, “Hell, Yes!” for, you need to still say no, and further explain what you are holding out for.
Our administration do not know about the secret fire in our heart to lead the Debate Team, or start a Book Club. They also may not know that you cannot take on an extra duty because of something going on in your personal life. They only see that they have an opening that needs to be filled and “Wouldn’t Ryan be just perfect for that position?” Communication is key with these types of situations, so be clear but unapologetic. A great admin will understand and be thankful that they now have further insight into who you are as a person.
What other expectations would you add?
When it came to teaching characterization to middle school, I’ve always taken the direct approach. Explicit notes, concrete definitions, and an assumption that students were coming to me with a very solid idea of how adjectives and character traits are one and the same.
Until this year.
I have a cohort of students who are, as we say in our district, “low” in terms of English content knowledge. They struggle to identify nouns, verbs and adjectives from each other. It was a very slow beginning to the year, starting from scratch, and getting them up to speed for 7th grade content.
With this group, explicit note-taking techniques did not always prove to be successful. Most 7th grade students are disorganized, yet this group seemed to make disorganization an art form. Any notes they DID take were somehow lost in the abyss of their backpacks or lockers. I knew I had to flip my normal teaching routine to reach them.
So, when characterization identification came up as one of their weaknesses even halfway through the year, I decided to make it interesting. When the students entered the room, I had drawn an outline of a body on the board. Around the body, I labeled the Head, Mouth, Hands, and Feet.
Then, on a separate white board, I defined each of the body parts.
Head: What does the character think or wonder about that reveals a character trait?
Mouth: What does the character say that reveals a character trait?
Hands: What does the character do that reveals a character trait?
Feet: Where does the character go or spend significant time that reveals a character trait?
I then gave each student a Post-It Note and broke them into groups of four students. The groups sat together and determined which student was in charge of which body part. As a class, I informed them, we would be performing a Character Autopsy. Whaaaaat? The reaction was priceless. We would be cutting into the “guts” of our character to find the deeper character traits within! To make it simple, I assigned the same character to each student.
Students were in their small groups of four, which helped them have little discussions if anyone was confused on a certain trait, or needed help finding a particular piece of evidence. I circulated the room, checking Post-Its as they worked and guiding any students who were completely off-base with their answers.
Then, students were given a Characterization Autopsy handout. Within their group of four, students traded Post-It notes and filled in the different body part sections. It is interesting how critically middle schoolers examine the work of their peers! Many groups worked together to hunt down better evidence for some character traits, and eventually each group had perfected their character’s “autopsy”.
If you find that your students are struggling to understand characterization, and need a different approach for finding evidence to support the character traits they do identify, this activity has limitless potential for being fun, engaging and down-right educational!
Other Creative Lessons from The Genius Educator
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this article is not meant to prescribe any form of treatment. It is always advisable to talk with your doctor before making any changes to your routine.
Chances are if you are reading this post, you have felt a bit overwhelmed by the symptom flare-ups from Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. While everyone is little bit different, we can all agree that these symptoms are extremely uncomfortable, if not downright painful. I set out on a journey to heal my thyroid as best as I could and I am going to share some of the things that have been successful for me so far. It is my hope that I can provide some relief for others out there who are going through a similar experience.
This post and the photos within it may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the link, I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
I am assuming you have done your research on Hashimoto’s, and understand the basics for keeping this autoimmune disease at bay. If not, here are the absolute basics that I had to follow.
Knowing what triggers a thyroid flare-up is essential to living a comfortable daily life. The very first thing that I had to do was entirely change up my diet. Personally, my antibodies attacked my thyroid after eating anything with gluten, soy, dairy or nuts. How did I know this? Whenever I would eat something with one of those ingredients, within two hours my throat felt swollen, I would get a SEARING headache that made me irritable beyond belief and my neck muscles would ache as if I had overdone a workout times ten.
I removed all of those from my diet, and within three days the “globus sensation” I kept experiencing in my throat nearly disappeared. My headaches became minimal and my neck aches were just a dull throb.
If you’re not sure where to start with creating a hypothyroid-friendly diet, try the Thyroid Cookbook. I can’t recommend any cookbook more for this disease. Not only did this one guide me on the right foods to eat, but each meal was designed to provide my body with the different nutrients I was probably lacking. Love, love, love this as a starting point for changing your diet.
Most Hashimoto’s (and other autoimmune diseases) are set-off from an imbalance in our gut bacteria. Most Americans have an issue with their gut health and experience bloating that can lead to Leaky Gut syndrome. Nutrients leak through the stomach lining, which your body identifies as foreign bodies and attacks it. Unfortunately, if this isn’t healed, the body can begin to attack its own tissue (like the thyroid) when it becomes confused as to what is the true foreign body.
My first step in healing my gut was to start eating foods that are naturally anti-inflammatory. This really aided in calming the swelling I was feeling in my thyroid, and my body was getting a ton of nutrients that I was missing.
Secondly, I began taking a Turmeric & Bromelain supplement twice daily (1200 mg). This was a life-saver for anti-inflammation and has become a staple in my life. There are many options, but I use NOW Turmeric and Bromelain due to its clean ingredients.
If you suspect you have SIBO (small intestine bacterial growth), you need to begin the healing process by taking care of this FIRST. Otherwise, no amount of healthy eating is going to fix what is happening in your gut. The absolute best probiotic for healing SIBO quickly is FloraMyces Saccharomyces Boulardii (500 mg). This aids in stabilizing the gut environment so that the good bacteria outweighs the bad bacteria (causing your bloating and Leaky Gut issues).
Lastly, if you’re having trouble with your regularity which is common with Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism, your body may be lacking magnesium. I use Thorne Magnesium Bisglycerate in powder form (no flavor). I take one scoop in a glass of water about an hour before I head to sleep. I have found that this helps immensely with my regularity AND it has aided with helping me fall asleep. It took about three to four days for this to take effect fully, so stay patient.
Brain fog, anyone? Not many people know how important the thyroid is until it starts to become compromised. Yet, the thyroid and the adrenals work closely together to produce hormones that your body needs to function. When one is down, the other must work overtime. For those healing their thyroid, they must give added support to the adrenals to ensure they are able to keep up during this time.
In order to support my adrenals fully, I take Natural Sources Raw Adrenal twice daily. Within three days I went from foggy to focused, which was critical for my daily life. I felt like myself again after this, and found myself enjoying conversations again.
Mostly due to Leaky Gut, your body has not been absorbing the nutrients it critically needs to function at its best. You must now take the precautions to supplement and renew those stores as your thyroid begins to heal. It is best to ask your doctor to run blood work to test what nutrients you are lacking. However, most Hashimoto’s patients are lacking Vitamin A, B6 & B12, D, E as well as selenium (and a few others). If you are a menstruating female, you will want to check your iron levels as well, to be sure you are not anemic.
I chose to find a Woman’s Multivitamin to supplement for these deficiencies. This is where you need to be careful. You must find a multivitamin that does not contain wheat (or any of your other triggers). Yes, I’m speaking from experience, and this is actually how I found out one of my triggers was soy.
I personally use MyKind Organics Women’s Once Daily and I notice within an hour of taking it each day that I feel even more relief from any symptoms or slight flare-ups. I take this in the afternoon, since it contains calcium which can interfere with my Levothyroxine absorption in the morning.
You will want to take some form of Omega’s as well. Since one of my triggers is soy which is commonly used to coat omega capsules, I take Flaxseed Oil which provides my body with Omega 3, 6 & 9! Everything you actually need, and this is plant-based.
Admittedly, hair loss was the hardest thing for me to accept after being diagnosed. I never knew how attached I was to my eyebrows until they started thinning. To anyone else, that may sound ridiculous, but if you also experienced hair loss, I’m sure you understand.
My greatest hair loss was when I had not taken gluten out of my diet. My flare-ups were constant and I felt like I had the flu almost daily. When I cut gluten out of my diet, I noticed my eyebrows starting to return (and my flu-like symptoms abated). However, the hair on my head had thinned considerably, which was unacceptable to me. So, I began taking a scoop of Primal Kitchen Collagen Peptides (unflavored) in my coffee each morning. Within a few weeks, I noticed my skin became vibrant again, my nails were pretty and… HAIR GROWTH! This was significant since my TSH and T4 levels weren’t even optimal yet. This could also help those of you who are feeling joint pain.
The difference between Collagen Peptides and Collagen Protein is something that may come up. It’s simple. Collagen Peptides are more bio-available for your body, meaning they can be used by your body quicker than the Collagen Proteins. However, the Collagen Proteins have different flavors. So, it’s really up to you!
I have found that doctors are not well-researched in this disease, and often believe that placing the patient on thyroid medication is enough. We know, however, that thyroid medication often ISN’T enough – not if we want to truly enjoy life! If you also have success with these methods, please don’t hesitate to share your experience with our readers!
Self-care is, without a doubt, one of the most important habits of a teacher if they plan to be in the profession long-term. Finding what makes you feel less stressed is essential to being productive and happy in the classroom. Yet, for a long time, the media has made it seem like teachers just need to sleep a little more and drink more water. Self-care is much deeper than that.
By the time we get into our mid-twenties, we need to start preparing for the next stages of our lives. We no longer than get away with treating our bodies like we did in high school and possibly through college. We need to start looking further than next month or even next school year; what do we need to start paying attention to so that we can be living our best life into our 40’s, 50’s and beyond?
Once you get into your mid-twenties, it’s crucial to start paying attention to the nutrient levels in your body. This is a proactive way to be sure that all of your organs are operating at optimal levels. While it may not seem dire at this time, if your levels are even slightly off, within a few years you could be facing critical issues.
Women who plan to have children should especially get their blood work done during this time. Women are more susceptible to certain diseases, especially diseases dealing with the thyroid gland. Getting levels checked even when you’re feeling great will ensure that you continue to feel great down the road.
People become comfortable once they spend a good deal of time around the same people. If you have been around friends or co-workers who have consistently been negative about teaching, life, or your aspirations, know that eventually you will start to lower to their frequency over time. Make sure you surround yourself with uplifting people who are going to skyrocket you towards greater things; do not continue to be around average people who pull you back into the “average bucket” so that they have company.
If your life isn’t where you want it to be now, take a look around you. Who are you surrounded by? Don’t like what you see? It’s time for change.
You did not become an educator to use that teacher salary to pay the bills and be a slave to small children. What is the one thing in life that sets your heart on fire? The thing that, when you are doing it, time flies by and you are ENERGIZED afterwards? Go do that. A lot. Find the driving purpose of your life and start to incorporate it as often as possible into every single day.
I know you love teaching and kids, but there is more to you than being this rock star educator. Don’t forget that you are a person too who has a higher purpose for being put on this Earth. Go do all of the things that make you feel alive beyond the routine of work.
Why is youth so enthralling? There are SO MANY THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO! Turning 16 so that we can drive, graduating high school and being independent, turning 18 so that we can vote, going to college or getting our first job, turning 21 and legally being able to drink, graduating college or getting promotions at work, buying our first home, getting engaged/married, starting a family… life is just a giant storm of wonders!
However, once we get to mid- to late twenties, things start to calm down. We no longer have these built-in milestones to look forward to and many people lose their sense of wonder about life. Make a point to schedule something a few months out such as a vacation somewhere with loved ones or friends, even if it is only a weekend trip. Get tickets to that awesome band you’ve always loved. Pre-order that wonderful book you’ve REALLY been wanting to read. Always have at least ONE thing to look forward to, and keep reminders of it in sight. Life is meant to be lived in anticipation of the next great thing!
Take care of yourself so you can live your best life, for the rest of your life.
When I think back on my own journey towards becoming the warrior-teacher I am today, I laugh gently at myself for the mistakes I made along the way. Especially the mistakes I made with my very first group of students. Wherever those wonderful souls are today, I’m sending you all the love in the world for living through those first months of teaching with twenty-two year old me. You’re all angels.
Teaching is not a profession for someone who is unwilling to give more than they get. Most weeks we zombie-walk through Fridays simply because our hearts have given so much love and attention to so many kiddos all week that we absolutely need the weekend to recharge. Anyone who tells you that teaching is merely babysitting adolescents and getting summers off has clearly never stepped in front of a classroom full of hormonal teenagers and had to make learning engaging and meaningful.
Today I drove an hour, one way, to check out a space for our group’s prom this coming May. My co-class advisor met me there. Both of us were a bit tired out from the week and our personal lives, yet we were there as two of the students from our class oohed and aahed at the beautiful space. We remembered being so excited for prom, even if the sparkle of the event didn’t appeal to us anymore. It was during this time that I looked at my co-worker and thought, “Her and I have changed so much, even during the four years we have known each other”. I knew I needed to write this post for all the new teachers out there who are watching the veteran teachers and wondering, “How do they do it? How do they make it look so easy?”
The truth is, teaching never was nor will it ever be easy. You will spend some days after school curled up in the fetal position with tears streaming down your face, wondering why in the hell you ever thought you’d be a good fit for this job. There will be days you questions whether you can keep going, and wonder how you are supposed to be a teacher as well as a student’s stand-in parent, therapist, disciplinarian, life coach, guardian and everything else that comes with the job. Teaching is complex and emotional – and the best part about YOU is that you want to help little human beings grow into the most amazing version of themselves possible. That is commendable.
So, here are a few major mistakes I made my first year of teaching that made life harder than it needed to be:
With youth, came this unexplainable self-doubt. Despite the fact that I had spent years developing my skills of Literacy and English Language Arts at a renowned teaching establishment, there was this tiny voice in the back of my mind that questioned whether I was truly qualified to teach humans. At some point during my time in college, I had transitioned from being a kid getting her degree to the adult in the room, and that sudden shift was not something my subconscious was having an easy time with. I was also only two or three years older than some of the students I was teaching, which was very challenging in itself.
“What if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to?” Immediate cold sweats just thinking about it. I was not a strong public speaker either, having gotten out of many class presentations in high school since most kids whined enough in my class that the teachers just quit assigning them. I had to develop my voice as well as my own inner confidence in a very short amount of time. To say this was a stressful time in my life is quite the understatement.
Advice: This is called imposter syndrome. Don’t listen to that little whiny voice telling you that you are a fraud who is not qualified to teach these amazing little geniuses. They need someone who is exactly like YOU to guide their learning, someone with a heart just like YOURS to foster their hopes and dreams. You chose this career for a reason. Personally, I loved everything about reading and writing, and I wanted to impart that love onto as many kids as I could. Take that voice that says you’re not enough, and snuff it out. Find your confidence. Teach like a rockstar (even if everyone else watching thinks you’re absolutely nuts).
Classroom management – the one aspect of teaching that college neglected to actually prepare me for. I had NO idea how to manage a classroom of students the right way. My greatest mistake was coming in SUPER hard on my upper level students before establishing any sort of relationship with them.
Don’t get me wrong – having high expectations and sticking to them are essential. However, I barely allowed them to twitch in their seat without giving them the evil eye. I was hyper-aware of potential infractions. This, my dear new teacher, only seemed to encourage my students to continue to test me in order to establish just how hard of a line I would draw. It also left me stressed out. I didn’t want to always have to be so strict. I felt like I couldn’t even be myself in my own classroom, because if I let my guard down I imagined they’d all mutiny.
As the months went on and I started to slowly develop relationships with the students. I grew lax in some areas, while remaining hard in others. I was unknowingly giving my students mixed signals about my expectations, and could NOT understand why they weren’t being model students. This led to many tearful drives home, questioning my own adequacy as an educator.
Some days I worried I was too much of a softie, cutting breaks when I knew a kid had a hard home life. Other days, I worried I was too strict for this current generation of kids and obsessed over how to properly police the behavior of my cohort of students. It was a nightmare that lasted for months until the school year ended. I remember feeling miserable, and wishing I could start the year again with the knowledge I had gained from the year itself.
Advice: Before you step in front of your group of students, ask yourself exactly what type of educator you need to be for these kids. Firm and unemotional? Gentle and understanding? Go ask their previous teachers about their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses (yes, even if you’re brand new and you don’t know their previous teachers. I promise you, those teachers are a gold mine of information. They won’t bite, no matter what your anxiety is telling you).
Develop a syllabus that has clear expectations, clear grading policies, and clear consequences for behaviors. Be TRANSPARENT in the type of teacher you are. Let the parents know your rules as well, so that everyone is on the same page. Consistently use your mentor teacher for help and advice. Mostly, whatever you choose, stay the course even if things get bumpy with a student or a parent. Staying consistent is key to avoiding issues, as your expectations were made clear and you are merely upholding them.
I can hear first year teachers rolling their eyes saying, “I would NEVER not plan ahead”. Slow your roll. I did not say that I didn’t plan ahead. I said, I did not plan my year out fully, September to June.
I am a PLANNER and a PERFECTIONIST. I started planning for September and October, using those planning forms that my college gave me for each individual lesson. I estimated the times of lessons, sketching out how long units would take without any true knowledge on how long it actually takes students to transition between activities.
I began the school year with these awesome units for the first two and half months of school, thinking that I’d have time during nights and weekends to continue my perfectionist approach at planning my lessons. None of my pacing was right. Some of my lessons did not fit my students well and had to be scrapped. Last minute changes were a daily thing. My social life slowly dwindled to nothing as I tried to keep up.
Advice: The plain truth is that once the year starts, you have very little time for much your first year of teaching. September through December are a whirlwind of back-to-school and then multiple holidays. Before school begins, sit down with a yearly calendar. The best way I have found to plan is to determine what skills I want to teach during certain parts of the year, then write down the texts I plan to use to teach that skill. I plan out what my final assessment will be, and get the rubric prepared. Then, I can start to dive more into individual daily lessons. I try to have September – February mostly planned out before school starts, because we have a few breaks in the winter that I can use to plan out the rest of the year.
Very few lessons will go to plan, so take it easy on yourself if a few of them bomb. Analyze why things went off-course, reassess and move forward! Just as they tell us to give our students a fresh start each day, give yourself one too. Don’t worry that the kids are judging you over the previous fail – they only use it against you if they can sense that it bothers you. Learn to let the bad days slide off your back and you will be doing just fine.
I think back to my first year and cringe. I woke up and absorbed teacher social media. I went to school and was overly-prepared for each day. Whenever I spoke to my co-workers, the only words coming out of my mouth were around students and assessments and units and school. Bless their sweet hearts for listening to it all and still wanting to associate with me. They knew I was just REALLY excited about teaching and had a million ideas flowing out of me for how I was going to change the state of education. Every new program that came out, I jumped on board. My friends learned more about teaching in those months than they ever wanted to know. My family was SUPER supportive but even they mentioned that I needed to stop spending so many of my weekends re-decorating my bulletin boards.
I wanted to engage my students every second of every class, and in order to do that I had to create visually appealing walls and perform my butt off everyday for the kids. That kind of energy is addicting and the kids loved it… but it wasn’t sustainable. By mid-February I was flat out exhausted. I am a morning person, yet I was having to convince myself to roll out of bed everyday. Coffee became my elixir of life. I was burning out.
Advice: Find actual balance between teaching and your personal life. Draw a HARD line for yourself, and do not “cheat” on it. For example, if you say, “I will not work past 5 PM each night and will only come in on weekends for SPECIAL occasions”, make sure your vehicle tires are turning towards home at 5:01 PM. Those papers you have to grade will still be there tomorrow. As will you, since you took the time to rest from your work, and so can continue showing up everyday for your kids.
Plan one to two high-energy lessons a week, and then more mid- to low-key lessons the rest of the week. Kids will love the variety and you get a break from being non-stop on fire in your teaching. Eat lunch with a trusted co-worker who is positive as a way to get “adult-time” in each day.
Resist the urge to only ever talk about teaching. Some people want to have those conversations, and that’s fine! Just make sure that you are still pursuing your other hobbies and goals, and find the time to talk about those things too. Have a girls night, binge watch your favorite show, go travel… find actual balance.
If you’re a veteran teacher reading this… what mistakes did you make as a first-year teacher that may save future generations some trouble? Comment and share!
New to teaching and wondering if middle school is the right age for you? Here is my post on the realities of teaching that age group.
Need some teacher inspiration? Here are five books that set my teacher heart on fire!
Feeling overwhelmed and need some tips now? Here is my post on Time-Saving Hacks to give you back your sanity.