Stop Focusing On The Empty Seats

The past few weeks, I’ve watched educator after educator nearly tear their hair out as they host video conferences with 20% attendance. They spend precious hours brainstorming, crafting, and transforming lessons into digital content. They are putting in more hours than a “normal” teaching week, and pushing themselves to learn new platforms like Kami, Kahoot! and Quizlet. They are fighting hard to find the quiet time and space (amidst other family members and children taking other classes of their own) in order to continue to show up for their students. They have a LOT of themselves invested in their weekly lessons.

Understandably, they then feel extremely bummed out when only a handful of their pupils pop in for the show. They get on Facebook teacher groups and gripe about the lack of students present, complain that only a handful of them are turning in work, and make assumptions about the students themselves.

That mindset? It’s worthless.

Stop focusing on the empty seats. Funneling your brilliant, hard-working and dedicated energy into the students who aren’t showing up, leaves very little for the students who are showing up. Let’s be real – you getting angry isn’t punishment for those students anyways. You only have limited amounts of emotional energy each day – don’t waste it. Instead, give it to:

-The kids who are setting an alarm and logging in to your school platform early, so they’re not late.

-The kids who have triple-checked your weekly agenda to be sure they didn’t miss anything.

-The kids who tucked themselves into a quiet part of their house to be sure they weren’t interrupted.

-The kids who are secretly craving this short time together with you and your class

You could be the one thing those students have to look forward to that day, the one thing that isn’t uncertain or scary. Seeing your face on the screen could be keeping them grounded, giving them small sense of normalcy. We, as educators, don’t know what each students’ home life is like – but we can provide every one of them with the opportunity to join us during the week to stay in contact, share their wins/fears, and to keep moving forward. Whether they choose to join or not is up to them.

We must remember, there is only so much that we have control over right now. We don’t have control over which students have internet at home. We don’t have control over which students are going to be self-motivated. We don’t have control over which students’ parents will have the time to encourage their learning.

All we can do is make our meetings encouraging, consistent and dare I say a little bit fun. We can be flexible and understanding in what we assign, and continue to ride this storm with our students. We can continue to be a safe place for them to land.

There will be kids who haven’t turned in a lick of homework. There will be kids who won’t bother to attend the video conference, even though they DO have internet at home. Those aren’t the kids who should soak up our attention right now. Those are the kids that we send a polite but encouraging email home to remind them of their student responsibilities, and pray that they acquire some semblance of priorities as time wears on.

It’s time for us educators to stop focusing on the empty “seats” in our video conferences, and to start pouring our love and effort into the kids who are showing up. These are the kiddos who are proving they care – let’s reward them for their resilience during this unprecedented time.


Teacher, Stop Apologizing

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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.

1. The Expectations

Teacher, Get Your Graduate Degree – But We Can’t Pay You Enough to Cover Your Monthly Loan Payment

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Photo by Esther Tuttle

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

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Photo by Ani Kolleshi

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

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Photo by Rock and Roll Monkey

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

 

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Photo by BBH Singapore

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? 

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Photo by Rawpixel

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

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Photo by Christian Erfurt

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!

2. Behaviors To Ease the Expectations

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

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Photo by Isaiah Rustad

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

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Photo by Rawpixel

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

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Photo by Luke Bender

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.

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Photo by Markus Spiske

What other expectations would you add? 

 


Self-Care Is More Than Sleep

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?

Go get blood work for nutrient levels in your body

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.

Start surrounding yourself with positive people

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.

Find the one thing that keeps your fire burning

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.

Always have one thing you’re looking forward to

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!

Don’t discredit eating healthy, exercising in a way you love, staying hydrated, getting adequate sleep and trying out meditation as ways for self-love. Just understand that self-love should be seen through a lens that projects far into the future, not just a lens that sees to the end of the school year.

Take care of yourself so you can live your best life, for the rest of your life.


My Greatest Mistakes As a First-Year Teacher

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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:

Do I Know This Stuff More Than Them?

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.

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“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).

Consistency was NOT in my Vocabulary

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.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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 Didn’t Plan My Year Out Fully

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.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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 Ate, Slept and Breathed Teaching

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.

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Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash

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!

Needing Further Inspiration?

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.

 


Your “Teacher Tired” May Not Be In Your Head

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This school year began as most school years do – planning weeks in advance, creating an atmosphere of welcome for my new cohorts, anticipating seeing co-workers again after a long, relaxing summer. I was excited to be starting my fourth year at my district and couldn’t wait to see the new faces in my classes.

There was one, seemingly insignificant, difference. I was dog tired before classes had even started.

In past years, I was always a bundle of energy during Meet The Teacher night and was well-known in my district for being the “over-achiever” who would spend her weekends at the school prepping. This year, I was struggling to find the motivation to type up my usual materials in cute fonts (if you know me at all, cute fonts are everything).

I blamed the energy lag on a few stress factors outside of my control, promised to buckle down even harder on my nutrition and exercise routine (I already ran and lifted weights with a balanced diet), and to start meditating. I figured that it was all in my head and would go away after I got into the swing of things. I told myself that Year 4 must just be “catching up to me”.

It didn’t. My energy lag turned into chronic fatigue. Add to that an increasing brain fog that turned my processing speed to Jell-O, and I was miserable. I started forgetting things, feeling exhausted, and had to make even more lists (than I normally did) just to stay on top of my duties. Life was NOT fun. Teaching was unbearable.

Mid-October, I started noticing that I was down a lot (also VERY out of character). My diet hadn’t changed at all, nor my exercise routine, yet I was starting to gain weight. Only a few pounds, but it was creating a sense of helplessness in me that I had never really experienced before. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I snap out of this funk?

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Then, Thanksgiving came around and I couldn’t deny that the weights I had normally been lifting easily were a struggle, I was irritable all the time (my poor family), and the glands in my neck were swollen as if I had contracted the world’s worst cold. Yet, I didn’t have any other cold symptoms. I couldn’t handle even the smallest bit of stress without losing it, my eyebrows and eyelashes were thinning out, and I was getting skull-splintering headaches that exploded if I laid my head on my pillow at night.

I begrudgingly scheduled a doctor’s appointment, which was pushed out well past Christmas due to busy schedules, I figured that I’d probably get over it well before then.

I did not take things so lightly when I woke up in the middle of the night during Christmas Break and could not breathe properly. It felt like someone was gently squeezing my throat closed, I couldn’t breathe out of my nose and my eyes were puffy as if I had pigged out on Red Lobster’s signature bread for days. The next day, I was elevated to the top of the appointments list and got in to see my doctor. My lab work found that my thyroid had, essentially, stopped working.

The thyroid functions when the TSH hormone in your body is sent out to inform the thyroid that the body needs more T4 hormone. If you have high levels of TSH in your labwork, that means your thyroid is underperforming and could lead to full-blown hypothyroidism. If your T4 levels are high, then your thyroid is overperforming and could mean you are experiencing symptoms of hyperthyroidism – both of which will mess with your body.

The thyroid regulates the body’s metabolic rate as well as heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, mood and bone maintenance. Without it functioning at optimal levels, you may experience:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Brain fog
  • Vision blurriness
  • Water retention
  • Swollen glands
  • General sadness or depression
  • Thinning hair
  • Skin dryness
  • High blood pressure
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Cold intolerance
  • High cholesterol
  • Constipation
  • Irregular periods
  • Trouble staying asleep

If you are noticing these symptoms combined, you need to schedule lab work to check your thyroid levels. It is relatively easy to diagnose and thyroid levels can be balanced back out with a synthetic thyroid medication, as well as other natural remedies if the severity of the thyroid issue is low. There are many reasons that the thyroid could begin to dysfunction, such as Hashimoto’s, a virus from childhood, or even some research linking to prolonged birth control usage. 40% of Americans have some form of thyroid dysfunction! That’s nearly HALF of our country! It is more common than I ever knew.

In my case, I had severe hypothyroidism. TSH levels should be around 0.4 to 4.0. My labs read that my TSH levels were above 200. YIKES. I had waited way too long to get checked out and my body was doing everything in its power to get me to listen. Since my case was so severe, I was immediately placed on a synthetic thyroid medication that gives my body the T4 hormone it needs to function correctly.

My doctor said that I would notice the most changes within 6-8 weeks of being on the medication, as it needed time to build up in the body’s system and take effect. Within two weeks, I noticed:

  • General happiness
  • Increased patience
  • Reduced swelling of the neck glands
  • Reduced puffiness of the face
  • Reduced loss of eyebrows and eyelashes
  • Slight weight loss
  • Less brain fog
  • Being able to smell EVERYTHING
  • Increased energy levels
  • Sleeping through the night

Ultimately, do not make the same mistakes that I did. Your symptoms may not just be “teacher tired” or all in your head. We are trained as educators to push through rather than address these issues, to don our superhero cloaks and power through these insignificant discomforts. However, sometimes the struggle IS real. Your job as a teacher is of the utmost importance. You are nurturing the minds of our future geniuses, raising children in the confines of your classroom to become productive and thoughtful adults. It is of the utmost, absolute importance that we take care of you, first, so that you can take care of your kiddos.

As much as writing sub plans is devilish work (my personal opinion), I urge you all to get lab work at your yearly check-up. If anything, you will be able to rest easy knowing that your thyroid is working beautifully. Instead, you can plan a much needed vacation for that “teacher tired”!