Thursday, March 29, 2018

Five Things I Wish I Learned In Teacher School

     I am incredibly thankful for my time in college.  Studying education in college redirected my career path from law school to the classroom.  It helped me see a way to make a difference.  My professors were full of ideas for teaching.  Their practices were evidence-based and did a great job teaching me what school would be like in a perfect world.  I say in a perfect world because I think we all know that once we finally enter into the classroom all of our grandiose dreams and endless amount of pinterest board ideas change in exchange for what our students need.  College gave me a great vision for what my teaching career can become, but there are certain things I wish a professor would have taken the time to talk about with us.  Truthfully, I don't know where these things would fit into a curriculum, but they are tips and tricks of the trade that I have picked up with on the job experience.

1. Build A Personal Learning Network (PLN):  To be honest with you, when I first joined Twitter I did not do it with the intention of learning from others.  I just wanted to tweet out something here and there.  A PLN was never discussed with me in college classes.  However, I believe that I have never learned more about education and becoming a quality teacher than I have from Twitter.  Educators are incredibly supportive and being engaged in chats like #waledchat, #122edchat, #learnap, #tlap, and several more provide opportunities for teachers, coaches, principals, superintendents, and other ed leaders in schools to dialogue and grow.

2. Sometimes Students Need A Break:  We were always encouraged to do whatever we can to make sure students were working 100% of the time.  Certainly student engagement is 100% vital.  However, sometimes things change.  Sometimes a student had a rough evening the night before and they just need 10 minutes to put their head down.  Sometimes a student is acting out and they need to leave the classroom for a brief time to help them reset.  Sometimes students need a break.  I am a big believer in the power of rest.  I used to over-schedule myself and wonder why I felt so stressed.  I realized it was because I was not giving myself a break.  Don't you think our students who have our classes, chores, sports, extracurriculars, homework, and relationships to balance need a break?  When students asked for a break my first year of teaching, I was hesitant out of fear that them not doing their work for five minutes would lead to destructive chaos.  What I found was that it helps students refocus, it helps them relax, and it helps build relationships.

3. Times Are Going To Be Very Tough At Points But Those Times Will Pass:  My first months on the job were incredibly tough.  There were days where I would come home to my wife and I felt continually like I had just gotten punched in the gut.  I felt lost.  I had lost all my confidence, because college taught me how things would work in a perfect world.  As it turns out the world is not perfect [insert laughter here].  However, this time passes.  It passed for me.  I found mentors in my school who built me up.  I found more strategies and exciting things to help me create engaging lessons.  I found my new mojo.  Are there days that are tough?  Absolutely, but I know now that these times are a blip on screen.  I walk in feeling like I can truly make a difference for my students.

4. Relationships Matter Most:  I do not care how exciting your lesson on the modernization of Russia and enlightened despotism is.  If you do not have a relationship with your students they will not learn from you.  Engagement is important, sure.  However, I would argue that you cannot get authentic engagement without relationships.  My mentor teacher had me stand in the hall every day between every class.  He said that time is essential to build relationships with students.  He was right. I learned so much about students in those three transition minutes.  Even today, I am in the hall between every class because I have seen how that time has helped me build relationships with students and how that has translated to student success in class.

5. Not All Water Coolers Are Evil: I was told early on to avoid the teacher lounge like it was the plague.  I was told that negativity swelled around it and that it would be a better idea to just stay away from it.  What I found was that it set me up with a false reality that the climate of a school is inherently to go toward a cynical, negative culture.  However, at my school we have a positive climate.  One of my great mentors at the school I connect with in that lounge.  My principal, Evan Robb, says frequently, "Positive people attract positive people, negative people attract negative people."  I think that is the better way to phrase it, because the teacher lounge, the watercolor is not the root of all evil if you do not allow it to be.  If I had just stayed in my room and never wondered out of it, then I would not have been close to my mentor, nor would I have been able to build relationships with several other colleagues around the building.  If you enter the lounge with a positive outlook on education, if your school is full of positive people, then you will find that the lounge, the watercolor are places where innovation and collaboration can occur.

What are some things you wish you would have learned in teacher school?  How do my five things stack up to what you have experienced as a teacher?  

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