advice for a new teacher

I had a new reader recently email me to ask for advice for "hopeful special education teachers-to-be". It made me think about my six years in various special education placements.

It really boils down to two three important pieces of advice:

1. A happy and healthy teacher is a more effective teacher. 
You will quickly find out that you could spend 24/7 in your classroom and STILL not get everything done that you wanted to do. There's always something you could be doing better. Do yourself a favor and set boundaries on your time. During my first year of teaching, I came home at 5 PM everyday (kids were dismissed at 3) whether I was "done" with my work or not. It saved my sanity, and it may well have saved my marriage. The workload gets slightly easier after the first few years, but maintaining balance is always crucial.

2. Always remember: you are teaching children, not curriculum!
Good ol' Mr. Rogers said it best: 
It's easy to convince people that children need to learn the alphabet and numbers. How do we help people to realize that what matters is how a person's inner life finally puts together the alphabet and numbers of his outer life?

What really matters is whether he uses the alphabet for the declaration of war or the description of a sunrise, and his numbers for the final count in Buchenwald or for the specifics of a new bridge.
3. Hang in there!
There are going to be days that you are going to wonder "Why in the world am I doing this? I did NOT sign up for this!!". There are going to be days where you are so tired, you won't remember how to spell your last name. Days when it feels like the whole world is against you: parents, students, colleagues, administrators, President of the United States. Days when you've made 4,000 decisions and don't have it in you to answer a simple yes-or-no question at the dinner table. On those days remember: "I am choosing to make a difference in the lives of children society would rather forget. However hard, however stressful, however tiring, it is worth it. The kids are worth it."

What important piece of advice would you give a new teacher?


Teachermum said...

Great ideas!
My advice would be that you are never alone. Any problem you may encounter in your special ed class has probably been encountered before. You don't need to constantly reinvent the wheel. The secret is get out there and look for answers and new methods and strategies... and then adapt them to suit your style and classroom.

My other piece of advice that Special Ed teachers especially, need to remember is - don't only focus on weaknesses...remember strengths should be your major focus too.

Jenny said...

This is beautifully said. I'll be starting my 14th year of teaching in a few weeks and I needed this reminder. I plan to share it with my team. Thanks.

Cortney said...

I agree with advise #1 but I still can't pull myself away especially at the beginning of the schools year. Last year when I started at the new school I was there until 7 or 8 each night then went in and worked over Spring Break. The only time I feel like I ave everything done is about the time the kids go on summer vacation and then the process starts allover again. Ha!

SharleneT said...

Excellent advice. I think it's also important to always be in the now. It's one of the hardest things to do but the most productive. BTW, I LOVE Awakened and hope your other readers will get themselves a copy. Excellent book.

Anonymous said...

You'll never be as good as you would like to be! Love, dad

Anonymous said...

Be the first to admit, you don't and can't know it all. Your students will find you to be human and appreciate you more when you honestly tell them, "I don't know." And second, remember the axiom, "they won't care how much you know, until they know how much you care." Your degree, certificates, experience impresses administrators - being a caring, human being impresses students.

Jill said...

As a new teacher, I appreciate your wise words!!

Marvelous Multiagers!

luckeyfrog said...

My advice?

As a new teacher, you want every day to be new and exciting, but if you try to reinvent the wheel every day, you'll never make it. Make a schedule of basic activities that are easy to do each week and switch out a simple element. (We have a poetry routine that stays the same every week, but with a new poem.) That way, if you come up with something amazing and new once in awhile, you have the time and energy to do it! (I also know teachers that pick one subject a year to revamp and improve, which helps.)

Also, SAVE EVERYTHING! And do your best to keep it organized, using binders or files.

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