Tuesday, September 7, 2010

10 Things I Wish a Teacher Had Told Me

Happy back to school!  In honor of my officially becoming a tenured teacher (take that, new value-added teacher data reports to determine tenure), I present to you 10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Started Teaching.

1. Don't sweat the small stuff.
You put your students' names on everything in your room only to find out that some of them are spelled wrong on your class list.  Or some of them moved away and you're getting three more instead.  And now you don't have enough little birthday cakes to complete your class chart!  Something like this will inevitably happen in the first week of school.  But the truth is, the only person who will notice is you -- and if you resent the fact that you're going to stay at school until 6 pm redoing it, you're just going to make yourself miserable.

2. If you can put off until tomorrow what you planned on doing today...you might want to think about it.
I realize this sounds an awful lot like procrastination, which to most teachers is a dirty, dirty word.  But as a new teacher, you're going to be staying in your classroom until nightfall anyway.  Your classroom is going to become a time-sucking vacuum of dry erase markers and despair.  (That was poetic, no?)  So if you really, really wanted to plan out your entire week's worth of math lessons, but it's after 5 pm and you've got at least an inkling of what you're going to do tomorrow -- go home.  You'll take care of tomorrow tomorrow; tonight, you have to take care of you.

3. You can only plan what you can plan.
You can't build a house without bricks.  So if you're itching to start planning your word work period but your workbooks haven't come in yet, don't make yourself do the same work twice.  If you're a brand-new teacher, it will kill you that you have empty boxes in your plan book.  Trust me, you will fill them with something.  Probably forty-seven somethings that you won't finish.  Which brings me to...

4. There is no such thing as empty time.
When I first started in my own classroom, I used to panic about how I was going to fill all the hours in the day.  Then I quickly learned that at no point in your teaching career, ever, will you look around the classroom and say, "Well, kids, we're all done for the day!  Let's knock off for a bit!"  First of all, if you have elementary schoolers, everything will take seven times as long as you think it will (except, of course, the activities you actually want to drag out).  And you can always ask the kids to read.  Or write.  Or practice their math facts.  Or...you get the idea.  If you're relatively innovative and have a good head on your shoulders, you will always come up with something for your students to do.  That said...

5. Be prepared for anything.  Really: anything.
Preps get canceled.  Field trips get canceled.  Assemblies get canceled.  Push-in and pull-out teachers cancel.  You know who never cancels?  Your naughtiest student, that's who.  It always pays to have extra activities on hand -- or at least in the back of your mind -- that you can pull out when the copy machine breaks and you can't hand out your social studies worksheet.  Because idle students are restless students, and restless students are troublesome students.

6. Improvise.
I used to love it when my math teacher's guide instructed me to display something on my overhead projector. Because guess who didn't have an overhead projector?  Or when I taught reading AIS and wanted to construct the same chart in all five of my classes, but desperately needed to save paper.  That's when I discovered that contact paper + dry erase markers = reusable heaven.  Work with what you have, and as Tim Gunn would say: "Make it work!"

7. Use resources from your sources.
Last year, when I was new to classroom teaching, I would fly into my neighbor's classroom every morning in a panic about something.  "Today's math lesson says all the kids need individual thermometers!"  "The first teaching point in the writing unit mentions a character map and I don't know what that is!"  And every morning, my saint of a colleague would patiently walk me through it.  "Oh, we never do that thing with the thermometers, we just skip it and do it whole-class."  "Let me take out my writing stuff from that unit last year and we can put in for copies."  Most of your co-workers were brand-new teachers once, too, and most of them will be more than willing to help you out.

8. Never assume.  Speak up!
When I was first hired as a cluster teacher, my principal vaguely assured me that at some point in the first few weeks of school -- she wasn't clear on the details -- we would sit down and talk about what I should expect to be teaching in my brand-new position.  If you've ever worked in a school like my former school, it won't surprise you to hear that I didn't talk to my principal again until she came to observe me teach -- in April.  Sometimes you have to speak up and ask, whether it's about the curriculum you're unfamiliar with or the workbooks you haven't gotten or the dismissal procedures you're unclear on.  At my former school, classroom teachers were responsible for picking up their classes from cluster teachers and delivering them to lunch; at my new school, cluster teachers bring their classes to and from lunch.  (Which means, since I have a before-or-after-lunch prep three days a week, I get almost two solid hours kid-free in the middle of the day.  Duuuuude.)  So it never hurts to clarify.  But remember...

9. Some days, you have to be brave and hold your own hand.
Your first year of teaching is often overwhelming.  If you're lucky, you'll have a support system in the form of friends, family and fabulous co-workers.  But your fabulous co-workers have their own bulletin boards to staple up, their own spelling inventories to grade and their own running records to copy.  Those are the days when you may feel terribly alone in the world.  But this too shall pass (and all that junk).  Three years in, you'll be writing blog post reassuring new teachers about how much they don't know.

And lastly...
10. Your moment will come to you.
Teaching will rarely play out in your classroom the way it does in the movies.  In your first year, probably no one will thank you for changing her life or turning his academic career completely around.  But a little girl may delight in the books you picked out for her.  Or a goof-off may admit, for the first time ever, to liking reading. Or you may just emerge unscathed from a year of epic battles.  Whenever it happens, that will be your moment as a teacher -- and nothing in your value-added teacher data report can take that away from you.


J said...

oh man, you are awesome and also genius. love this list! it is so true and i think it's good for every teacher to remember, not just newbies.

and to add on to your #4/5, at the beginning of the year, whenever I came across a good worksheet activity that didn't exactly fit into my daily plan (map activities and grammar activities are perfect for this kind of thing), i still made a class set of copies and made a big file of them on my desk. it made me feel a lot better having those emergency time-killers. but i'm sure i don't have to tell you that of course i never had to pull them out--you are so right about everything taking forever! :)
also, then you have ready-made sub materials!

have an awesome first day tomorrow! can't wait to read about all your ctt adventures!

Kelly said...

Thank you for the wonderful list. I am in my 6th year teaching and #10 is something I think we all need to reminded of at the start of the year.

jwg said...

The rest of your naughtiest student never being out is actually, " and if he is someone else will have a really bad day."
And if that kid moves away someone equally difficult will join your class within a week. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Teaching 18 years----probably would agree with most of the things you mentioned on this list----# 1 is HUGE-Love that one---However, you forgot one thing: Make sure you join the TDA---I'd also be careful with #8---on paper this idea sounds terrific---in the real NYC Public schools it might be better to, at times, stay under the radar

Anonymous said...

Love your list! It made me smile after a tough day. I am a 3rd year teacher in the Bronx, teaching a fourth grade CTT class. I especially liked "be ready for ANYTHING"...so true! It could be a fire drill during your prep (twice!),your classroom computer crashing, and a fistfight between 2 students in the hallway passing each other going to the lunchroom!

Anonymous said...

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