Saturday, August 24, 2013

Letters to Misty: My Thoughts for a New Teacher

This year will be my eleventh year in education. After eleven years, you learn a lot, but you also realize how much there is that you just don't know. What's the best way to manage a classroom? My ideas on this change frequently. How can I structure my word study time to make it especially valuable? I'm always encountering something new to make this better.

At the end of each year, I think about what went well and what didn't go so well. And at the beginning of each year, I think, "This is it! This is going to be the BEST. YEAR. EVER!"

And sometimes it is. But sometimes it's a time of change and struggle to grow in.

When Misty from ThinkWonderTeach asked me to write a letter to her about my teaching experience, I sat and thought for a while. There are lots of things to write about - every minute is new in the classroom. So I thought and thought, and spent two hours on Pinterest searching for "new teacher advice" and this is what I came up with.

Misty,
Good luck with all that.
Sincerely, Ms. B

Kidding!

Here is my proper letter to Misty.
Think, Wonder, & Teach
Dear Misty,
You are so lucky! You can read this letter and learn from all of my mistakes! You can do it right the first time! All of the dumb things I did that I regret can be avoided by you. I hope so, because we can only have so many nutters wandering the streets after their retirement, babbling about pinterest and book studies.

Young(er) me, before teaching ruined me. Haha kidding. mostly.

This is me now. 
This is my nutter face. It happens when I'm so sleepy I no longer realize people can see me.
You are starting to teach in a time where we have a professional online community, full of 'words of wisdom', 'don't do what I did's, and helpful hints. The information of the world is accessible to us in our classrooms and homes. But this can be a double-edged sword. My first important thought is this:
Don't Pinterest Yourself to Death.
Pinterest is a great place to find a collection of ideas people have shared. Many people. Many different people. Not any one person does ALL of the things that have been collected on pinterest. Most people do a few of them a year; maybe even only one. Trying to do all the 'cute' things we see on pinterest will eventually result in a pineuriusm, or an aneurism caused by pinterest. Choose one or two things that will be helpful and try them. If they don't work out, remind yourself that you have years (many years. Many, many years) before you are able to retire to keep coming back to the classroom and try some more.
Pinterest should come with a warning label.
Of course, if you're wanting to throw yourself in pin first, check out my pinboards! I constantly pin things I will probably never do.
Follow Me on Pinterest
Be a Lover, not a Hater
This one was a big one for me (it's probably not that big for you). When I started teaching, I had a plan! I was ready to start and had lots of ideas and knew how I wanted to do things. However, other people had lots of ideas, too. I had a way of listening to the ideas and thinking, "Not doing that. Boring." Sometimes, though, if I had taken the time to think through them a little more, I might have walked away with something great. So my advice is to listen to everyone first, before you decide what you think. And read, read, read about your profession, too. It's hard to know what you think if you haven't heard both sides (or all eight sides sometimes) of a discussion.

Don't Reinvent the Wheel
I know that was cliche, but I'm trying to take my own advice. Why make up a new phrase when this old one does the job? And that's kind of what I'm getting at. When I started teaching, I spent hours on things that weren't really that important. I'd lay out a document for recording grades, when I could've spent a dollar at Target and bought a gradebook (not that the Target Dollar Spot existed in the olden times). I didn't like the paper guided reading format, so I created an electronic version. Just write on the darn paper. The charts I put up were messy, so I rewrote them. Who cares? Just write neater the first time around. Basically, don't waste your time on stuff that's not that important.
Figure Out What's Important
Not everything is. The really important thing is your kids. Their learning is important. Not how cute stuff is, not if your binder cover matches your calendar, not if your library check-out system is revolutionary, not if you get to teach about your favorite butterfly. Your kids and their learning is number one. Everything else is teacher stuff, not student stuff. So when you have a decision to make about how to spend your time, spend it on something that will directly impact your kids' learning. That might include lesson planning, preparing questions that will support quality thinking, teaching your kids necessary rituals and routines that will support their day-to-day learning, and mining your colleagues' brains for effective teaching tools to use with struggling readers. This actually leads me to my next (and, I think, last) point.
Sometimes, you're allowed to say no.
So when I started, I worked at a campus that was heavily involved in lots of professional organizations and had a lot of practiced teachers who knew what they were doing when it came to reading. This meant that they had been exposed to lots of great opportunities to participate in presenting at, attending events for, and serving those professional organizations. So I did, too. Here's the issue: when I was creating a newsletter for members of the PTO, voting yay or nay at a meeting, or spray-painting my nostrils shut while putting together decorations for a dinner event, I wasn't spending time working on learning that directly impacted my kids. I am NOT saying that you shouldn't be a part of a professional organization that will grow you as an educator! I AM saying that you can't be part of ALL the professional organizations that anyone asks you to join. It will make you crazy.
As it did with me.
After a few years of this craziness, saying 'yes' to every opportunity, I was nuts. I had to learn to say, "I don't think I'll be able to make that kind of a commitment at this point. I would love to help out, but unfortunately, I don't think it's in the cards this year." 
After I got better at that, I started to have time for things like eating dinner, vacuuming, getting hair cuts, and going on dates. Those are all important things.
So be selective. Choose an important cause that you really care about and feel like you will grow from. That's when you say yes; when it's going to support you. Not because you can't say no.
But don't say no ALL the time, because sometimes you make your best buddies when you're both spray-painting your nostrils closed together.

Be Part of the Team
Make friends. My closest friends that I've made in the last eleven years have been made in the hallway, outside our classroom doors. You're going to spend a lot of time with these people; try to appreciate them and share yourself with them. Your team or colleagues can be the very thing that gets you through the most difficult days, when you receive that snotty note from a parent you've never met because they won't come to conferences, or when you don't know what else to do with your child who's still reading at a first grade level in the fourth grade, or when you forgot to enter all of your middle of year math benchmarks before you go out of town (and your buddy calls you and tells you she did it for you - true story). So cherish them.


 That doesn't always mean you have to dress up like a pineapple on Halloween so you can try to win the costume contest... but it might.

In closing,
you are going to love this. Teaching is so special. People are trusting you with their little people. They send them to you and you will grow them and send them back. You will impact these little people, but you won't know when, how, or how much. They will go off and be part of the world, and you will have been a part of them. And they may remember you, and they may not remember you. And you may remember them, and you may not remember them. But it happened; they've been shaped by you somehow. Leave the mark you want to leave! Love what you do most of the time, and the rest of the time, like it. 
And I'll leave you with the best advice my mentor teacher gave me:
They're coming back tomorrow. 
(So no matter what happens today, they'll be back and so will you!)
God bless you in your teaching and give you the tools you need!
Chrissy
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6 comments:

  1. Excellent advice! I think it's good advice for the veteran teachers too (ahem!) especially saying no :)

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    1. Saying no is a piece of advice I am still working on myself... But I'm getting better! It's too easy to get suckered into too much!

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  2. I love this - love, love, love it and hope many a new {and old - like me} teacher reads this. Saying no, and not striving for Pinterest Perfection is the best advice around!

    Hugs to you and here's to a great school year filled with perfect little imperfections!!!!

    xoxo

    Holly
    Crisscross Applesauce in First Grade

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  4. What wonderful advice, and great things for us seasoned teachers to remember, as well. Thanks for sharing! :)

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  5. Thank you so much for writing this! I love it and I laughed (and cried) through it. It is so true that the team you work with makes all the difference. Especially when you are at your wits end and simply cannot handle another tantrum today so you send them off to your buddy room (aka the teacher friend next store) so you can breath. I don't know what I would do without her support or yours!!

    HUGS!!
    Misty

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