Categories
Memoirs

Why I’m Surprised (but Grateful)

Spanish villas overlook the Mediterranean Sea at La Herradura Southern Spain. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Here I am, retired and nowhere near where I expected to be at this stage of my life. What happened to those lofty dreams of years ago when I pictured myself in a luxurious mansion sipping cocktails by a pool overlooking the Mediterranean? I guess I killed them. I didn’t choose to kill them. I killed them with my choices.

Choice #1: Going to college instead of joining the Navy. The Navy appealed to me as a high school senior because it promised world travel with a good salary and future retirement benefits. I didn’t want to leave my boyfriend, so I went to college. I also didn’t believe I could make it through basic training because I am basically a wuss when it comes to physical activities. I am not athletic in the least.

Choice #2: I followed my heart while in college. I married before I graduated, and he was young. He had to find a good job and never went to college himself. He did work hard providing for me and our eventual kids, though. He said he wouldn’t change a thing, but sometimes I think he would have been better off waiting. I would have been, too.

Choice #3: Not finishing my pre-med program. I didn’t take Chemistry or Physics in high school because I was afraid of failure, and my first Chemistry class was a disaster. I learned nothing because the teacher wasn’t a good one. I barely passed the second semester under the other teacher, so I decided I would never be able to pass Organic chemistry. I also have a phobia of needles, which people say you get over, but I hate fainting in class (which I did three times).

Choice #4: Not taking Chemistry and Physics in high school. I was scared of the teachers and failure.

Choice #5: Letting fear control my decisions.

I did make other choices affecting my life’s journey, and I’m not saying I regret making easier choices, but I am in a different place than I expected to be. But isn’t that what God is all about? Taking us on new and unexpected journeys? He has blessed me with a loving husband, two beautiful children and their spouses, and three wonderful grandchildren.

My cup is full, although my mansion is a 1961 wood frame three-bedroom home and I might sip coffee or wine on my deck or front porch. Who needs a mansion on the Mediterranean anyway? I have one “just over the hilltop in that bright land where we’ll never grow old” (old church hymn) anyway!

What about you? Have you landed where you least expected? I’d love to hear from you!

XOXO

Categories
teaching

How to Succeed as a New Teacher

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I was a new teacher once.  Fresh out of college, heart and mind full of dreams and good intentions, unjaded by the educational system, confident in my leaders, bright-eyed, and bushy-tailed.

Then reality hit.  And boy, did it hit.  These were the days before TTAS, STAAR, and EXCETs.  I managed to survive my first few weeks; heck, even my first few years and emerge as a pretty good teacher, according to my evaluations and feedback from my former students. 

Maybe you can benefit from some of the things I learned, whether you are a brand new teacher, a teacher in a new school district, or just trying to have a fresh start. 

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 First, guard your joy at being in the classroom.  Don’t let naysayers and doomsdayers spread their gloom.  Focus on the positives.  You may need to remind yourself of this daily, but do it anyway.

 Along the same lines, don’t listen to what others may say about the students you are getting.  I’ve had teachers in the past ask to see my class roster so they can comment on a few of my students.  This is more difficult now with everything being online, but occasionally you may have someone ask you if you will have “so and so” in your class, and then proceed to tell you what a troublemaker/lazy bum/etc. he or she is.  Refuse to form opinions about students (or other personnel, for that matter) until you have met them yourself.  Many times I have found the problem with that student and teacher lies in the teacher’s attitude, not the student’s.

 Observe and absorb all you can from the teachers and staff but be very slow in offering up your own opinion.  This will allow you to get a feel for the school climate and how the teachers/staff interact with each other and with students.  Don’t be too quick to choose friends.  Allow time to get to know others so you can make smart choices about who to spend your time with.

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Avoid gossip.  Even if you don’t contribute, listening makes you a willing participant and aligns you with the person saying unkind things.  You don’t need that kind of reputation.   Give everyone the benefit of the doubt until you know them better.

Dress conservatively until you are familiar with what is accepted attire on your campus.  Some campuses are less formal than others, but you don’t want to start out too casual.  You’ll also carry more authority in your classroom if you are dressed better at first.  Dress like the professional you are.  If you expect others to treat you like a professional, dress and act like one, especially if you are young.  You need to establish boundaries with your students, especially high school students.  Save the capri pants and slide sandals for later.

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Along those same lines, speak like a professional.  Leave the slang and desire to be “cool” at the door.  You’re there to teach and be a role model.

Make your classroom a happy place to be.  Decorate with bright colors and include personal items (not too valuable!) so that students can relate to you as a real person as well as their teacher.  I liked to post motivational posters around my room (you can order online or visit a teacher supply store such as Mardel’s), and I included a table lamp, knick-knacks, and framed photos around my desk.  The table lamp came in handy when the lights had to go out for slides or film clips.  Students liked seeing pictures of my family as well.  Don’t let your room be referred to as “cell block 101” like one teacher I worked with! 

 Establish your rules and procedures the first day of school and keep practicing and reinforcing them until they become habits for your students.  I strongly recommend The First Days of School:  How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong.  You can order it here.  Dr. Wong provides proven strategies for classroom management and discipline.  Also don’t be afraid to ask experienced teachers what works for them.

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Prepare your first week of lessons.  Make a cheat sheet, especially for your first day, so you don’t forget anything or get anything out of sequence.  Get a good night’s sleep if you can, eat breakfast if you can, and walk into your first day with all the confidence of a superhero.  You’ve got this!

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What about you experienced teachers out there?  Is there anything you would add? 
Please post your comments!  We’d love to hear from you!


XOXO
Categories
Memoirs teaching

Out of the blue. . .

I’m minding my own business, doing my weekly grocery, etc. shopping at our hometown big box discount store.  I pass the sporting goods department where my husband is perusing hunting supplies when I meet a nice-looking man who nods and says hello.  Thinking he is more friendly than most, I nod and say hello and give my shopping cart–buggy, in these parts–a little push when he says, “You’re Mrs. Coker, aren’t you?  You don’t recognize me.”

At that moment I realize–the “Mrs. Coker” is always a dead giveaway–that he must be a former student.  I ask him his name and he proceeds to tell me how he had me as his science teacher over 30 years ago, and I was and still am one of his favorite teachers.  Wow.

My first year teaching high school yearbook.


Another affirmation of the career I left three and a half years ago, and somehow can’t seem to speak positively about.  How in the world can I not believe in my career choice when I have been so blessed to have so many former students who still insist that I was one of their favorite teachers?  And still others who chose to become teachers because of the example I set as their teacher?  What a privilege and honor it is to realize what an influential part I have played in so many lives!

I always felt I learned more from my students than they learned from me.  This day, the day I met Steve again after 30 years, I learned something else.  I learned that the career I chose is nothing to complain about, to be ashamed of, to denigrate, or to discourage young people from pursuing.  I learned again what a holy calling it was and still is.  God keeps showing me, even in retirement, how His purpose was fulfilled through my obedience to His calling to become a teacher.

Me as a tender young first-year teacher back in 1983.


So I am proud that I spent my working years as a public school teacher.  I am proud of each life I touched, and not only the ones who are easy to remember because they misbehaved or were very outspoken, but the quiet ones like Steve, who I didn’t even realize was watching me so very closely as a young teacher just starting out.  

Message left on my eraser board by my fun and crazy seniors the year I retired.


I am so grateful that he saw me and spoke to me.  What a blessing I would have missed if he hadn’t!  

How about you?  Do you remember a favorite teacher?  Waste no time in letting them know what they mean to you.

XOXO

Categories
teaching

Teacher Tuesday: Admitting you’re wrong

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What?  Wrong?  Me?  But I’m the teacher!
Laughable, isn’t it?
But sometimes we teachers are afraid to admit when we have made a mistake.  After all, we are people, too, and people generally have a hard time admitting when they are wrong.
But, and this is a biggie, it is even more important for a teacher to admit mistakes.
Why?

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Because kids can spot a phony a mile away.
I have found that it is better to ‘fess up when you make a mistake than it is to try and cover it up.  If the outspoken students of today don’t call you on it in front of everyone, they will at the very least become distrustful of you as a disseminator of information and possibly as a person.

Case in point:  you misspell a word on your Powerpoint slide and a student questions you about it.  Instead of covering up with a little white lie such as “I must have been in a hurry,” it is better to just go ahead and admit that you misspelled the word.  The reason isn’t important to the kid.  What is important is that they see that you are human, you make mistakes, and you own them and learn from them. 
“Thanks for the catch, Joey!”
That kind of response will not hurt your credibility at all, and it will raise your esteem in your students’ eyes as well as giving the student who caught it a little boost.

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Yes, I know that was a minor example.  What about this situation?
You advise a whole class to take Chemistry the year after Biology only to have several of the students come back to you and tell you the counselors signed them up for another science course such as Physics instead of Chemistry.
Do you save face and give them an excuse or just go ahead and admit that you didn’t know what you were talking about?
Telling them the truth–that you were mistaken–will help them see you as a human being who sometimes makes mistakes.

Of course, it’s not a good idea to constantly make mistakes in the classroom.  After all, you are supposed to be the educated authority.  Make sure you know your subject matter but don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know the answer to a specific question.  

“But you’re the teacher!” is a response I heard a lot over my career.
My answer?  “Yes, but teachers can’t possibly know or remember everything.  Let’s find out together and we will both learn.”

So. . .go ahead and admit when you are wrong.  It’s okay.  They already know you aren’t perfect.  But now they will know they can trust you, and you will earn their respect.

XOXO

Categories
teaching

Teacher Tuesday: Establishing a routine

By this time, about the second week of school, you are probably beginning to accumulate papers, notebook or journal entries, memos from different offices or departments, and data that needs to be entered into the computer, such as grades and student information (special education, language learners, etc.).

As a teacher it was difficult to know what to do first.  I would arrive at my classroom, sit down, log on, and immediately there were ten emails from ten different people needing something ASAP.  It helps to create a system to keep you from becoming overwhelmed.
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I’m a “stack” person.  Some people are “file” people, and still others are “pin it” people.  Whatever you prefer, create stacks, files, or pinned stacks of items that need your attention.  I had my students turn in papers in one basket, and during my conference period or down time, I would sort the papers into individual assignments or class periods before beginning to grade them.  
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I had a certain place on my desk where I would keep things that needed to go to the office such as signed papers, things to put in the mail, papers that needed signatures, and assignments for other teachers or in-school-suspension.  Keeping this stack made it easy for me to just grab it and go when I went to the office.  I actually kept these things in a cute folder that was not easily lost in desk clutter.
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Things that only needed my attention once a week were designated a certain day when I would make sure they got done.  For example, when I was responsible for creating lessons for all of the elective courses for all the high school students in the discipline alternative school, I designated Thursdays as the day that I would work on those for the next week.  Starting on Thursday usually ensured that they would be done and ready for the students by Friday afternoon for the next week.

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There is never enough time during one’s conference period to get everything done.  How did that time get the title of “off period,” anyway?  If anything I was busier during that time than almost any other time of the day!  I always kept a running list of things I needed to get done during my conference period so that no time would be wasted when the time came.  I tried to multi-task as much as possible, and I worked with other teachers who taught the same subject as I did so that sometimes we could share duties such as running copies and setting up science labs.

There was something I always made sure I did no matter how late in the afternoon it was getting (unless I had to pick up children, of course).  I always cleared my desk, or at least made neat stacks of what was there.  Leaving your desk in chaos means you greet the next day with chaos.  It’s like getting up to dirty dishes in the sink.  It just starts the day off wrong!  A clean desk greeting you first thing is like starting with a clean slate, and we all need that in the mornings!
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Being a teacher requires so much more than just being able to share information with students.  A major requirement is the ability to organize and make the most of limited resources, including time.
Establishing some kind of routine for yourself will simplify your life a bit, allowing you to be your best in a very demanding, but also very rewarding profession.

What are some of your routines as a teacher?

XOXO