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35 Bits of Advice for First Year Teachers

First Year Teachers

 

School will be starting again before we know it. I know, I know. No one wants to think about it. Sadly, school supplies are appearing on store shelves and thoughts are already turning to back-to-school.

I remember the summer before I first started teaching. I had just graduated college and I was so incredibly excited. I think I thought I was going to save the world the moment I entered the classroom.

I just knew that every lesson I prepared was going to be amazing and that my students were going to do so well that they would destroy achievement data.

And then I couldn’t find a job.

School started and students and teachers went back—and I didn’t.

I started the school year substitute teaching. And I hated every second of it. I didn’t find any joy at all in being in a classroom that wasn’t mine. It was a serious emotional challenge.

A few weeks into the school year I was called into a great high school to substitute for a teacher who had passed away (tragic story. He had a heart attack one afternoon and quickly passed. He was far too young for such a thing). After several weeks of subbing, I was asked to stay in the position permanently.

While the circumstances were tragic, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to be able to be a “real” teacher.

I learned a lot that first year. More than I think I’ve learned any year since.

So if you’re about to enter the classroom for the very first time as a “real” teacher, here’s a bit of advice.

  1. You are not going to save the world your first year. But you can certainly try.
  2. Many of your lessons and activities are going to fail. Be okay with that. Be a good example to your students and pick up the pieces and try again.
  3. You’ll be a completely different teacher in a few years. Don’t get used to who you are now.
  4. Be willing to adapt. Flexibility and adaptation are the name of the game your first year.
  5. I once had a teacher I very much respected tell me that because I taught high school I shouldn’t smile until after Christmas. I smiled on day one and all the days after.
  6. Decide if you want to be respected or liked. The two are not always mutually exclusive, but you’re not there to be your students’ friend.
  7. Don’t let your students call you by your first name. Ever. I don’t care if you are 22 and they are 18. Or 5.
  8. Keep your mouth shut. (This bit of advice from my hubby who has been teaching for 15 years). New teachers should be quick to listen and slow to share their “brilliant” ideas. Share when appropriate, but don’t try to re-write the book on teaching.
  9. (Along with #8…) You’re not a mentor yet. Don’t try to tell seasoned teachers how to do their jobs.
  10. Never talk about having a “teacher toolbox” when referring to teaching strategies (also from my hubby).
  11. Don’t wear anything with an apple or a pencil or a bus on it. Ever.save the world
  12. Dress appropriately. Dress up really classy on Mondays. It sets the tone for the week.
  13. Don’t let your students get away with cheating. Ever. (Refer to #6).
  14. Remember that you’re not just teaching subject matter—your personality is a reflection of your character.
  15. Don’t over-volunteer. Sometimes being an eager beaver can get you hours of extra work outside of the school day, and you’ll need that time for planning and grading, etc.
  16. Don’t gossip. You have no idea who is friends with whom on your faculty or what history they have. Be classy and keep your mouth shut and your opinions about people to yourself.
  17. Respect the administration. You don’t have to like their policies or policy changes, but respect the process and the people behind the process. Those folks work hard.
  18. Get a mentor. Sometimes you will be assigned one, but if that mentor is not helpful or you aren’t given one, attach yourself to a seasoned teacher and ask for advice. Lots of advice.
  19. Be humble. If something is working in your classroom, share appropriately and be ready for seasoned teachers to help you adapt it to make it better. (Refer to #8).
  20. Have school spirit. No matter what age-group you teach, be proud of your school. If you aren’t, the kids won’t be, either.
  21. Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Get into the cafeteria, make friends with other teachers at the “teacher table” and watch the dynamic of your students as they interact with each other. You can learn a ton about student personalities and relationships over lunch.
  22. Don’t be afraid to report something that needs to be reported. Whether student abuse or teacher impropriety, don’t sit on it if it’s serious.
  23. Don’t blog about being an awesome teacher. You aren’t yet.teaching
  24. Find the happy medium between being excited about and dreading professional development. Some teachers get a little too happy about it (I’m going to save the world with these strategies for my teacher toolbox!) while others act like sitting through professional development might be reason to have the coroner on hand. PD can be cool. You might not use everything presented to you, but you can learn something—if you try.
  25. Love your students. Even the ones that are difficult to love. They deserve it and they might not be getting it at home.
  26. Be fair. Never play favorites with students.
  27. Don’t show too many movies. If movies are your go-to, you aren’t creative enough.
  28. Never leave your students alone in the classroom. Chaos will ensue.
  29. Never use profanity in front of your students. Set high standards for yourself and your students will follow.
  30. Good classroom management comes from being wise enough to know when to be firm and when to laugh. (Refer to #6.) This takes practice.
  31. Never be afraid to apologize to a student.
  32. A student who has wronged you but is forgiven will never forget it.
  33. Students like “fun” teachers. They respect and remember the ones who push them to their greatest potential.
  34. Use caution when eating homemade goodies gifted to you from a student.
  35. Be grateful—for your job, for your mentor, and for any seasoned teacher and administrator who is willing to help you. Someday you can repay it to a first year teacher.

Be excited about your first year as a teacher. Give it your all. Smile a lot. But most of all, be willing to learn. Your goal in your career should always be to be a better teacher than you were last year. 30 years of that will produce some amazing results.

Share with me: Seasoned teachers, what advice would you add to this list?

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My Super Fun and Exciting News!

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Well, folks, I’ve been teasing about it for days, so here it is– my big news!

I am super crazy excited to announce that I have signed a contract with Thomas Nelson publishers to collaborate on a writing project with none other than the amazing Max Lucado!

If you’ve read Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer by Max Lucado (released last year) then you are familiar with his idea of “pocket prayers.” The whole book is about how prayer is a heartfelt conversation with God– that you can invite him in without the flowery words or flashy show, and God shows up. It’s about being free to connect with God in a powerful and simplistic way, without feeling like you need a big vocabulary or a “wish list” a mile long.

Coordinating with this book, Thomas Nelson will be releasing a series of prayer books geared toward specific groups (moms, dads, military, friends, etc.)–six books in all.

I am very honored and delighted to say that my name will be on the cover of Pocket Prayers for Teachers, releasing in May of 2016, just in time for Teacher Appreciation Week! (Is that divine timing, or what??) 🙂

Obviously this is outside of my usual writing genre (I’m usually writing fiction of the romantic, sometimes historical, sometimes contemporary, sometimes YA variety). However, if there are two things I know a lot about, it’s teaching and prayer.

As I work on this prayer book, God is reminding me of so many things– including just how much he loves teachers and what an amazing mission opportunity he’s given each teacher within their own school setting.  DSC02709

To say that I am honored to be working on anything associated with Max Lucado would be a gross understatement, as I have read and admired his work for years and years.

My heart is super grateful for this opportunity and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead on this writing journey. There’s never a dull moment and God is always doing things that surprise me. He’s amazing and awesome like that.

Don’t worry– I’ll be reminding you (a lot) to pick up a copy of this prayer book for all the teachers in your life closer to the release date.

Thanks for your support, friends!

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1st Resolution of 2015: Be A Failure

 

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I envy the people who fail with grace.

They try. They fail. They look at their failure with a “better luck next time” sort of attitude, and let it roll off them like it’s no big thing.

That’s so not me. I’m no good at failure.

I’m a type-A, 4.0 GPA, “if you want the job done better do it yourself” kind of girl, so failure and I don’t exactly get along.

But not in 2015.

I’m not really down with making resolutions, mostly because, as mentioned above, I believe in action more than intention. So while resolutions might not be my thing, I really like making goals and even more making a plan, then working the plan to achieve the goal.

So you might be surprised to find out that my first goal of 2015 is to be a failure.

2014 brought changes to my life. The biggest change was that I went back to work full time, which was both a blessing and a challenge. Even though I work from home, my job is pretty demanding, so while I’m “here,” I’m not always “here,” if you know what I mean. 90% of the time my brain is on work-mode, and the time-suck of that has been a real challenge.

Mostly because my plate was pretty full when the job came along. Suddenly: overflowing plate. Like overflowing-and-making-a-mess-on-the-floor plate. Suddenly I found myself wondering how I could balance it all.

First I looked at it as a challenge that I could overcome by making a plan. Making a schedule. Working toward a goal, like I tend to do. So I set out to do just that.

Plan for 2014: 

Be a devoted follower of Jesus by spending regular, quality time with Him.

Try to be a great mom. Have plenty of quality time with my boys.

Try to be a great wife. Have plenty of quality time with my husband.

Keep the house clean and orderly, and do all the cutesy Pinterest stuff that shows the world I’m cutesy and Pinterest-y.

Exercise regularly.

Write. Write write write write write. Spit out at least 2 more books during the year.

Try to be an awesome teacher and leader. Work hard at my job, achieve career goals. Plan brilliant lessons for my students that show them that history is awesome, develop great plans that help my team achieve and becoming stronger teachers for their students and the school.

Grow the women’s ministry at church. Be a focused leader with plans, goals, and show progress toward growing the ministry. Plan and execute women’s ministry events.

Teach Sunday school. Lead Bible study. Use my gift of teaching for the good of the church and the community to glorify Him.

Continue to be active member of music ministry at church.

Get boys to and from all of their activities. Be involved mom in all of their activities so that they can be more well-rounded.

Be involved at boys’ schools. Room mom. Cutesy Pinterest stuff again.

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Whew. Just reading that list makes me tired. It makes me sad. And it makes me embarrassed because there are several things on that list that just didn’t happen in 2014.

So my first goal of 2015: Be okay with being a failure.

Sometimes when our plates are too full we have to let something go and learn to say no. We (I) have to take a hard look at our priorities and figure out what’s really most important.

The difficult thing for me is that all of the stuff on my list for 2014 is pretty important (okay, not the Pinterest stuff so much).

So when I look at the list of responsibilities I have and realize that I have to let something go, all I see is a giant red F.

F for failure.

I haven’t been able to balance it all. I haven’t been able to pull it all off. I’m not “woman who can do it all.”

And I wonder, will the world judge me? Will they think I’m weak, or lazy, or disorganized, or heaven forbid, not good enough? Just because I can’t do it all?

Stupid, right? I know.

I know. And yet I feel like a failure because I have to realize that in order to do the most important things in my life, I’ve got to let some of the other stuff go.

And I have to be okay with that.

So I pray, I prioritize, and I decide that my first goal of 2015 is to be okay with looking someone in the eye and saying, “I can’t.” I’m going to be comfortable saying, “I’m doing my best and I can’t take on anything else.” I will say, “I tried and I failed. I’m sorry.”

I will remember that God has never asked for me to be perfect. He’s never asked me to do it all. He’s never expected me to be SuperWoman or SuperMom or SuperWife. In fact, he’s provided mercy and grace through the perfection of his son so that when I do fail, I know that I’m still loved by the One who matters.

Who cares what the world thinks? I’m loved even when I fail.

It’s beautifully liberating to know that God loves me no matter what, even when I don’t live up to my own standards. It’s stress-releasing and hope-giving and smile-producing.

So let something go in 2015. Be okay with looking back at 2014 and saying, “I tried and I failed.” Be okay with prioritizing, learning to say no, and trying again.

God’s mercies are new every morning. His strength is renewing, and his hope is unending.

2015 is going to be a beautiful year. My plan for this year is to revel in that beauty. Instead of focusing on trying to do it all, I’m going to focus on doing it all to the glory of the One who loves me. 

Share with me: What are your goals for 2015?

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