It’s the last week of the #DCSDblogs challenge for our district! I’m really proud of myself for coordinating this challenge and it’s been so fun to read and write blog posts with other awesome teachers in the district!
This week’s prompt is Tips and Tricks, which asks us to write a post with advice for a brand new teacher.
I think this is pretty hard to tell from the outside unless you knew me well that year, but I spent a lot of my first year teaching being extremely overwhelmed, stressed, lost, and anxious. The hope is that my advice could help some other brand new teacher avoid feeling like that!
It all boils down to:
KNOW YOURSELF. KNOW YOUR PEOPLE. KNOW YOUR STUDENTS.
I knew going in that one of my biggest struggles in teaching and in being part of a school staff was going to be the fact that I am a huge introvert. I often prefer being alone to being with people and I’m not going to be the one to begin a social interaction. So the first thing I knew was that it was going to be difficult for me to get to know my coworkers and feel like a part of the group. So my mantra for year one was say yes to everything. Every time a staff email went out to invite people for drinks after school, I went (unless I already had plans). When people asked me to eat lunch with them, I did. If they requested volunteers for a district math curriculum writing, I went. I took every opportunity I could, even when I just wanted to go home and be alone.
And I made friends. Not as many my first year, but as my second year started, I realized that because I had said yes to all those things year one, people started inviting me to other things. Birthday dinners, barbecue at their house, to go to the play at another high school with them.
That worked for me because I’m introverted and knew I needed to force myself to get to know everyone, but it could be something else for you. Figure out what your barrier becoming a part of your school staff group is going to be and find a way to combat it.
The worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard for teachers, and I keep hearing it, and I’m sure you’ve heard it, is “don’t smile until November”. What the heck?! People kept telling me that, and I knew it wasn’t me. I’m never going to be a strict disciplinarian, it’s just not my personality. (I’m not even going to get into the fact that I think this is horrible advice even if you are a stricter teacher – especially if you’re working with disadvantaged students. They need smiles.) I knew that advice didn’t fit me, so I ignored it.
You need to know yourself to be an effective teacher. You can’t pretend to be someone you’re not in front of a classroom of students. They will know, and they will not respect you.
Know Your People:
Teaching is an incredibly unique profession. It’s a job that everyone thinks they understand, because everyone went to school and had teachers, but that’s not the same thing at all. We carry all the burdens and celebrations of our students with us, and no matter how hard we try not to, teachers often take the failures of individual students to heart.
It’s been proven that psychologically, teachers suffer many of the same effects of PTSD just by being exposed to all the struggles of all of their students. That was a fact that totally floored me when I first learned it.
I’ve discovered that what you need is your people. You need to find people on your staff, just two or three, that you totally and completely trust. And sometimes, when you’re having a really rough patch, you need to go find one or two of your people and just vent it all out. You need to know that these people won’t judge you for your frustrations, you need to trust them to not gossip about what you’ve told them.
These vent sessions should be contained – once all parties are done venting, you move on and leave it all there. It can’t turn into a negativity spiral, which is sometimes hard to do. But what I’ve found is that you need people like this THAT ARE TEACHERS, THAT WORK AT YOUR SCHOOL. You can’t take all of these burdens home and place them on your family and friends. Plus, they won’t completely understand anyways, because they aren’t within the climate of your building. You need someone who will understand what you’re frustrated about, and why it’s frustrating.
Then these people are also the people you can go to when you want to celebrate something – get really excited about a student who answered a question about something that happened three units ago, or show them this really cool lesson you’ve developed.
Find your people. Share the ride with them.
Know Your Students:
Getting to know your students as people is so, so important. They aren’t just vessels to dump content into. They. Are. Humans. Should I throw my favorite quote in here again? I think I should:
Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.
– Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
If you can think of your students as people, it becomes a lot easier to find worth in all of them, even the ones who aren’t doing as well in your class. You should definitely do surveys at the start of the year, or find some activity that fits you that lets you get to know them as people.
This is my favorite section of my intro surveys:
Many of my students struggle to fill in 10 things that make them happy, which is telling in itself, but it definitely shows their priorities immediately. The personality traits one I use to roughly sort them into a Hogwarts House (did you see that one coming????). I do that because as someone who is very invested in the series, it works almost like a Myers-Briggs type personality test would and tells me a lot about how students will work best and what methods will probably help them understand content the best. If I know they’re a Gryffindor, I know there’s probably a lot of pride involved, and that they most likely will struggle to ask for help when they need it, for example.
I also mean know your students in another way. The thing I most wish I had learned about in my teacher ed program and didn’t at all was mental health and childhood trauma. I do work in a specialized environment where all of my students are at risk students and so most if not all of them deal with either mental health or childhood trauma, but I think it is so, so important to know about even if you don’t work with a specialized population with a high incidence of that type of student.
If you’re a new teacher (or a not so new teacher) who feels like you haven’t been trained on mental health or childhood trauma, I strongly suggest you seek out your school counselor and ask them for resources. In the meantime, two of the things I’ve found most helpful are below.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, originally done in the 1990s in California, explores the link between different types of childhood trauma and the effects on later life. It’s shocking and upsetting how prevalent these are and what they can do to people’s brains. I’ve now taken a class on it, watched two documentaries, and read a lot about it and it’s quite literally changed my life. It’s all about the fact that this isn’t a choice; trauma truly affects your brain’s development and changes the ways you encounter the world.
Mindfulness exercises can really help students who struggle with anxiety, but also any student, as they struggle to focus and keep themselves calm during stressful class situations. Our mental health therapist did a professional development with our staff on mindfulness, and I’ve linked to some of the resources she gave us, including a mindfulness toolkit.