Teacher Tuesday: Advice for the new teacher

Much has been written for and about teachers, especially advice for the new teacher, but I thought I would devote today’s blog post to that subject anyway.  After 30 years of teaching and administrating, I feel like I know a little something about the field, so here goes. . .
  • As a new teacher about to begin your first real school year, you no doubt have spent some sleepless nights, tossing and turning with planning and anticipation of what your very own classroom will be like.  You are looking forward to meeting your students, but then again there is a sense of dread and fear, wondering if you can really pull it off.  Relax.  You can.  You have all the training and knowledge that all of rest of us had, probably even more these days with all the technology and research now available.  You can do this!
  • Now for some practical advice.  I know that the first bit of advice is a bit difficult. No matter what anyone says, those butterflies won’t go away.  And that’s a good thing.  That means you will be on your toes, your A game.  To quell the panic, get your classroom ready before you sit down at your desk to prepare your lesson.  Likely you have already done this.  But if you haven’t, get to it.  I could never concentrate on my lessons until my room was ready, all the posters and decorations up, the desks in place, the room ready for the kids to walk in. Now sometimes it isn’t possible, especially if the custodians are waxing the floors the weekend before school starts or you are still waiting on desks or equipment, but get it as ready as you possibly can.
  • Prepare for your first day.  When I started to panic about what I was going to do, I would slow down, take a breath, and think. All I needed was to know what I was doing the first day.  Once I got the activities in place for that first day or first class period, the rest would fall into place. This may be difficult if your principal expects your lesson plans a week beforehand, but you can always plan that first day and make adjustments for the rest of the week as needed.
  • Make a list of your activities, an agenda of your plan for the day.  I always wrote an agenda on my board or on a Powerpoint slide and had my junior high and high school students write it down in their notebooks or journals. Having the list of activities posted where I and my students could see it ensured that I wouldn’t get ahead of myself or forget what was next, and my students always knew what was coming next.  It also provided a reference for them if they missed class. They could always ask their neighbor what we did in class that day.
  • Resist any urge to socialize your planning time away.  Keep a to-do list in your planner or on a tablet on your desk and use your planning period to be productive. Trust me, you will be glad you did.  You can socialize during lunch!
  • Seek out a positive, experienced teacher to be your mentor.  You don’t have to ask them to be your mentor.  Just be around them when you can and soak up their energy, enthusiasm, and ideas.  Negative people will do nothing for your attitude or your career; in fact, they will color your perception of yourself as a teacher and the kids as your students.  Do not allow negative people to bring you down!  You chose your profession because you wanted to be a positive influence on young lives. Hang with positive people!
  • Whining is NOT an option.  If you fail, and we all do, reflect on what you did, how you prepared or didn’t, and learn from your mistakes.  Teachers must be flexible.  If you planned a test on the same day the principals planned a disaster drill, roll with it.  No one will benefit from your complaining or whining and what’s more, you will only bring yourself and others down.
  • And finally, always have a Plan B. Administrators do plan drills without telling you, you will get called to meetings during class, your frogs for dissecting won’t arrive on time, the network will break down, your hour and a half lesson will be done in thirty minutes. Have an alternate lesson or activity you can pull out of your hat at a moment’s notice.  As you gain more experience, this will be easier, but don’t allow yourself to be totally dependent on Powerpoint lectures and worksheets.  Computers and copy machines break down but the kids will be there anyway.  Ask for ideas from experienced teachers.  You will be surprised at what they will tell you.
You are about to start your career as a teacher!  It will be rewarding, frustrating, time-consuming, nerve-wracking, sad, happy, maddening, full of love, and FAST.  Don’t allow yourself to forget why you became a teacher, and always enjoy and appreciate your students. 
And let me know if none or all of this applies.  Now put that expensive college education to use and go forth and teach!

Teacher Tuesday: Another school year gone. . .

I was at my doctor’s office today getting a bone density screening (yes, I’m that old) and the technician said, “So, you teach?”
Of course I told her I had retired last year, so she congratulated me and proceeded to tell me that she used to be a school teacher and sometimes wanted to go back. 
I could not encourage her!
The noblest profession is fast becoming one of the least desirable.  New teachers are leaving early and seasoned teachers are longing for retirement. 
This medical technician doing my screening told me that her friend, a fifth grade teacher, felt the same way I do.  Teachers are becoming more and more powerless as administrators bow to demanding parents who will not allow their children to experience disappointment, failure, or consequences.
Until parents respect the teaching profession and the teachers’ ability to provide the best education for their children, and allow teachers and administrators to provide the necessary discipline to provide an optimum learning environment, things will continue as they are or get even worse in our public schools.

Trashing my profession is not my intent, by the way.  I actually miss teaching!  I miss the experience of seeing students take in new information and learn.  I miss the camaraderie between colleagues, and I miss greeting my students as they walk in the door.  I have wonderful memories of my days as a teacher and administrator.  I just hope that those still in the profession will be able to say the same.  
Summer vacation gives educators a much-needed break and energizes them for the coming school year.  Let’s hope that they will be excited and enthusiastic when they return in August.
I pray that it will once more become a profession I can recommend to others!

Teacher Tuesday (on Wednesday!): Incentive to Teach?

It seems the powers that be just can’t stop making the teaching profession more and more attractive to would-be teachers.  First, they gave us longer school days and longer school years.  Then they began teacher testing.  Soon after followed high stakes student testing, the results of which can threaten a teaching career, and certainly has caused some administrator reassignments. Then they took away teacher control of curriculum so that teachers have no say in how or what is taught.  Then there is the erosion of teacher authority with the removal of corporal punishment and the lessening respect in the home for teachers, whose rules have little backup from administrators.
However, we can’t blame the administrators.  They are forced into submission to parents by the threat of legal action and being replaced.  The threat goes all the way up to the CEO of the school district.  Teachers and administrators must conform. 
Now there is talk in our state legislature of raising the teacher retirement age to 62 and doing away with the formula that allows teachers to retire when their years of experience and age equals 85.  (It may be 90 now.  Thank goodness I was under the old rule of 80.  That’s one good thing about being older!)
Changing what often doesn’t need to be changed is what legislators do.  Having never been in a classroom except as a student and to visit on parent night, they believe they know what is best for teachers.  They continue to make the teaching profession less and less attractive to those who would consider it as a career.
During my last year as a teacher I taught with three first-year teachers who seriously questioned their career choice.  They felt stuck in a profession for which they had spent thousands of dollars being educated, a profession which offered few rewards other than knowing their students and seeing a few succeed, a profession which demanded much time and effort outside the classroom.  They voiced many times that they had no idea they would have to work so hard.  Something is seriously wrong here.  Don’t we want to attract and retain young teachers?  Who is going to be there for our grandchildren?
Teaching is not an 8 to 4 job as many believe.  Teaching requires as much time outside the classroom as it does inside the classroom in preparation, evaluation, and organization.  It is draining emotionally and physically.  Any time off is needed and much appreciated, even though much of it is spent in more preparation and education for the field.  
I would suggest to those who believe that teaching is easy to try corralling 30 children or teens in one room and get them to do the same thing at the same time.  Have you ever taught Sunday school or led a Cub Scout group?  It’s an exhausting feat just to get them to listen.  And teachers today go way above and beyond that by actually getting them to perform and succeed.
I would say to legislators:  get out of the business of the schools and let teachers teach.  They are the professionals. They know what is best and what works.  Stop taking the perks away from them.  They deserve them.  And next time you want to dictate how teachers should teach, go volunteer in a classroom for a week.  You’ll leave with a new perspective.

Teacher Tuesday (on Wednesday): Why are teachers tired?

Yes, I know it’s Wednesday, but yesterday I wrote about American ingenuity as a part of FOLK Magazine’s 2013 Journal Challenge, so I’m a day behind.  I could have gone ahead and written about wedded life as I am supposed to on Wednesday, but what is a blog if it isn’t done according to the wishes of the writer?  It is MY blog, after all, and this subject is just too important.
I read an article yesterday that was so fitting, so appropriate, so NOW about the teaching profession, that I just HAD to share.  You’ll have to click on the link to go to the article, but if you are a teacher or know a teacher, or love a teacher, or are related to a teacher (which, face it, is just about everyone), you should take the time to read this.  I know that I am but one of millions of teachers across this nation, but even though most of my career was tucked into a few square miles in small-town East Texas, I believe this article speaks for all of us.  It at least speaks for the teachers I have known and spoken with.
Read it and weep.  Is there a solution?  Only if we stand up and DEMAND that change begins where it must, in the HOME.
Here it is, the most honest and well-written response I have seen to the failure of education to cure society’s ills. . .
Is this a valid discourse on the life of the American teacher?  I would love to hear from other teachers.

TEACHER TUESDAY: Sometimes they become famous. . .

I am proud to say that many, if not most, of my students have grown into successful adults with good jobs and nice families.  I love seeing them on Facebook showing off pictures of their own children (whom I call my grand-students) and sounding like responsible adults. After all, isn’t every teacher and parent’s goal to raise their children into responsible, contributing adults?  Even the ones I or other teachers may have despaired over have grown up into surprisingly well-adjusted and responsible people!  
Imagine that!
Not only do students grow up into responsible adults, some of our students become famous.  I have had several of those in my career, but the one I met in my supervisory teacher’s classroom during my student teaching 
was my first.
Have you ever watched “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders:  Making the Team”?  This reality program chronicles the tryouts of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders under the direction of Kelli McGonagill Finglass, who happens to be that student.  Beautiful, tough as nails, and a former Cowboys cheerleader herself, she has brought the cheerleaders to international recognition and status. 
I’m not going to pretend and say that I knew Kelli well or was a favorite teacher.  In fact, when I met her at a Distinguished Alumni reception we had at Lindale High School a few months ago, I was surprised when she said that she remembered me.  It may have just been her being polite.  I could instantly see how she has become such a successful professional and even a national icon.  Her poise and charm made everyone feel at ease and important after they waited in line to speak to her.  
I am proud of all my students, not just Kelli, and I am not more proud of her than my others.  It’s just kind of cool when one of them becomes famous and you can say that you were one of their teachers.