Wednesday, June 22, 2016

8 Things I Wish I Would Have Known as a New Teacher

I just finished my 11th year of teaching and am beginning to plan and prepare myself for my 12th year. I finally feel like I have turned the corner from being a "new teacher" to a more experienced one. While I still have so much to learn as a teacher, I have recently started to reflect on how much I have grown during the past 11 years. There is so much that I have learned that I wish I would have known when I was just starting out. If you are a new teacher, or a more experienced one just needing a little boost, I hope that some of my experiences might open your eyes to some of the possibilities of teaching!! Here's what I have learned....

During my first few years of teaching, I thought my students needed to be perfectly quiet when the principal walked into the classroom. I believed it was a sign that my class was well managed and that that was what my principal wanted to see. It didn’t take me long to realize that very little collaboration, cooperation, and learning can take place when students are perfectly quiet. Over the years, I learned to teach my students to work, communicate, and learn from each other in a way that is productive, but of course, not TOO loud! It can be very easy to tell the difference between on-task and off-task noise level. There is a time and place for students to be working quietly and independently, but ultimately I strive for good cooperative learning!!

Some of the best lessons are not in the plans. There are times when a book, a conversation, or something a student shares, turns into a lesson of it's own. I used to feel so much pressure to get to everything that I wrote into my lesson plans. Then I would rush from one lesson to the next, just to make sure I got to everything each day. There were days when I would get through everything in my plans, but then look back and wonder how much my students actually gained from each of those lessons. I finally had to give myself permission to "throw out" lessons (or at least move them to the next day) so that students could enjoy more authentic learning experiences!! If you are a Type A teacher like me, it helps to "plan" to leave a little bit of wiggle room throughout your week, so that if another great lesson goes astray, you have the time to see it through!!

In my first few years of teaching, I graded every item on every page of work that my students turned in!! I would spend HOURS and HOURS grading classwork, homework, tests, writing assignments, and projects!! Then I still wouldn't be done and my piles would grow higher and higher with each new day. Sometimes I would spend an entire weekend catching up, only to come in on Monday and have it start all over again!! Then one day I was given the advice from another teacher that EVERYTHING DOES NOT NEED TO BE GRADED!! All it took was those words and my world was changed. It took me some time to get used to the idea, but then I slowly started to find ways to ease the heavy burden of grading. I started grading homework with my students. When grading math, I would choose a small selection of problems to grade, to make sure my students we're getting the concepts and skills without grading the entire page. I used to assign about an essay a week to my 6th graders, but then decided that they would only "publish" one a month to be graded. I taught my students how to work together to check their own work, and work together to fix errors. All of this was life changing. I was no longer staying at work until almost dinner, coming in on the weekends, and generally just feeling miserable about the workload. If you are a teacher that is still grading every little thing, I am officially giving you permission to stop: EVERYTHING DOES NOT NEED TO BE GRADED!!

This is my motto!! As a new teacher, I had so many ideas and I was so enthusiastic. I still am!! I wanted to do EVERYTHING!! I still do!! For awhile, teaching life was good!! I planned elaborate lessons, joined committees and teams, and generally said YES to everything. Then one day I realized that I was spread so thin, and completely overwhelmed with all of my ideas and commitments. I wanted to do it all, but I was EXHAUSTED!! My enthusiasm wavered and I started to feel like teaching had taken over my life. That's when I realized that I CAN DO ANYTHING, BUT NOT EVERYTHING. I had to start deciding what was most important to me. I am the type of person that gives 110% to everything I do. In order to do anything with that much effort, I had to pick and choose the ideas and commitments that were most important to me. I am still enthusiastic about teaching and I still want to do everything!! But now I realize that I can't do it all and I have truly learned how to balance my enthusiasm and priorities!!

With all of the planning, grading, committees, plus the energy it takes to be a teacher, it is so important that you always make time for yourself. There was a time when teaching took over my life, causing my relationships and other interests to suffer. Teaching takes a ton of energy and we need time away from it to rejuvenate so that we can give it our all during the school day. While there will be times when you use after school hours, weekends, and breaks to work on school work, be sure that you still give yourself some time away from it all. It took me years to learn to set limits with the work I brought home!! But ultimately, I am a better teacher when I can leave it behind and take time for myself and my family. Enjoy those nights, weekends, and breaks!!!

Teaching can be such a lonely profession. It's one of the only careers where you can be surrounded by 20 to 30 (34 in my case) individuals all day, and still feel like you are in it alone. Being a new teacher can be especially lonely. But still, NEVER BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP!  There are teachers at your school who have the answers. Believe it or not, teachers want to help and share more than you think. If you aren't receiving the help you need, don't be afraid to look beyond your school. Teaching blogs and social media have made it so easy for teachers to connect and share all over the world. As a young teacher, I learned so much from teachers that I connected with through blogs, Pinterest, and various Facebook groups. The nice thing about teachers in these different forums, is that their goal is to share and help other teachers. All you have to do is ask!!

One of the best things about the teaching profession is that each year is a fresh start!! While we want to give every year and every class our absolute best, teachers still have the chance to learn and grow from year to year. Some years are harder than others!! Use each school year as a learning experience, to develop as a teacher, and start over better and stronger the next year!!

In many ways, I still consider myself a new teacher. I learn and grow with every year. I remember when I first graduated and started my first teaching job, I felt like I knew it all. But with each new experience, whether it be a new grade level, a new colleague, or a challenging student, I am constantly learning!! I think it is so important that teachers, no matter how long they have been teaching, always be open to new ideas!! As much as you think you know, there is always so much more to learn!!

Teaching is such a rewarding profession, but it can also be a challenging one. Remember to be flexible, ask for help when needed, keep and open mind, and learn from every experience!!

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