4 Lessons Learned In My Third First Year of Teaching

back to schoolSeptember is here, which means the beginning of another school year. This last school year was particularly important to me because it marked my first year back in the classroom after a six-year hiatus. After two difficult years teaching in two different schools, I seriously questioned if this was the right field for me. While working in several other fields, I realized that many of my frustrations with teaching were not unique to the teaching profession. Instead, I was just learning how to navigate my way successfully in the professional world. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching middle school or waiting tables, I now know that wherever I am, I need to find the balance of being a team player while advocating for myself, know how to have honest, difficult conversations with co-workers, and know how to be solution-oriented instead of whining about what makes me unhappy.

I couldn’t be more thrilled at my decision to take a third try at classroom teaching and I’m proud to announce that I survived this last school year (and even thrived at some points).

As a new school year begins, I’d like to share four lessons I learned in my third first year of teaching.

Lesson #1: Celebrate the little victories.

There are days when everything feels wrong. What seems like an interesting way to teach compound sentences falls flat on its face. Or maybe the kids just aren’t grasping the best ways to explain their evidence and I can’t think of a new way to present the material in the moment. Other days the clouds are making us want to put our heads down, I didn’t drink enough coffee (is there such a thing?), my desk is overrun with paperwork, grades are due, and I accidentally threw away everyone’s graphic organizers that we needed in order to complete the day’s writing activity.

Then, I look out at the class and see a reluctant writer writing non-stop for twenty minutes without even looking up. Or there’s the girl, who has struggled staying focused, working feverishly on her essay and can’t help but shout out, “I actually like your class!” Another day it’s the quiet kid who excitedly waves his hand in the air and demands to lead the class discussion on double negatives. There’s the kid who shrieks on the playground and almost falls over when he finds out he’s passing all of his classes. These are the little victories that make the challenging times worth it, and they deserve to be celebrated daily.

Lesson #2: Remember the why.

As someone who is often way too hard on herself, inevitably self-doubt creeps in especially in the cold dark months of January and February. Why am I doing this, I would ask myself. Why didn’t I just give up after two marginally successful years of teaching? What makes this time different? Maybe I should’ve just given up the teaching profession all together.

Proud teacher!
              Proud teacher!

Then, I remember my why. Why do I teach? I teach because I firmly believe in the power of education as what could be the great equalizer, but there’s still so much more work to do. I believe in the limitless potential of students and that they need unrelenting adults who work together to light the fires that are within them. I believe in the little victories that make teaching worth it.

Ultimately, I acknowledge the feelings of self-doubt, but then I move on and trust that I’m doing the right thing because it’s the decision I made for me.

Lesson #3: It’s not supposed to be easy. Nothing is.

I often think of the words Tom Hank’s character in A League of Their Own says when one of his top players, Geena Davis’s character, says she’s quitting the league. She says it just got too hard. He responds, “If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” I feel that way about the teaching profession. The hard is what makes teaching great. Are there days where I wish I could squeeze in a game of tennis after work followed by a long dinner? Of course. Do I gaze longingly at my non-teaching friends’ Instagram pictures of their afternoon meetings around the company keg and subsequent happy hour jaunts? Maybe a little. But, I wouldn’t trade the opportunity to be inside the classroom for anything else.

Lesson #4: Perspective is key.

When I worked at the restaurant, our manager would sometimes ask at the beginning of a shift if we thought our work would cause us to lose a limb or even worse, kill us. The answer was always no. He would then say something to the effect of say exactly, you won’t die while working tonight so relax. I think about this when I need a little perspective. As a classroom teacher, the stakes always feel high. After all, this is someone’s education we’re talking about. When things don’t go as planned, or if students don’t score as well on a test as I’d hoped, it can feel as serious as losing a limb. However, in those moments, it’s important to have some perspective and remember I’m doing the best that I can. I take the work seriously, but I can’t take myself too seriously because that’s when things go awry.

I am so delighted to be returning to my school for a fourth year of teaching and am looking forward to all of the nuggets of wisdom I will gain this year. To all you teachers out there, have a great school year!

Advertisements

Get to The Next Tree

ImageLife is crazy. We all know this. I know I’m not the only person in the world who’s spread too thin, working two jobs to make ends meet, not striking the perfect work-life balance, lamenting that time passes too quickly. I haven’t even written a blog post since April! (Though, in my defense, I’m convinced time passes faster in New York City  than in the rest of the country and that New York is actually on another planet, in a different dimension, but that’s a whole different story.)

Anyway, amidst the craziness that is adult life, I find myself easily caught in the trap of thinking about all the things I haven’t done or wish I had time to do. I haven’t even made it to a baseball game this summer (one summer I went to 11), I haven’t been to a Broadway show in months, there’s a stack of New Yorkers on my kitchen table that are unread, I haven’t even put away my clean laundry! I don’t even want to think about the pile of dishes in the sink or the fact the recycling needed to go out last week. Not to mention since moving to New York over a year ago, I still haven’t found a local doctor to call my own or a budget that works! I can’t remember the last time I had a lazy Saturday where I laid in bed watching Netflix and eating chips and salsa. Vacation, what’s that?

When I’m feeling bogged down with too many tasks and not enough time, it’s easy to justify doing nothing. I don’t have the perfect, well-crafted idea for a blog post, so I’m just not going to write one. Ever.

I don’t have the perfect closet organizer to maximize the space of my closet and I really don’t even wear half my clothes any more but I’m too tired to separate out all of the clothes into bags to give away, so I’m just going to chuck all of my clothes into the corner of my closet, on top of my shoes instead of bothering to put them away neatly.

I used to get to the gym and train five days a week, sometimes with a personal trainer,  but I’m too tired to get up in the morning so I’m just going to go to the gym never.

I have dinner plans, but I’m so tired and have to work early in the morning, so i’m just going to go to bed as soon as I get home from work and not even eat at all.

This kind of thinking, while seemingly logical, gets me nowhere. And is nonsense. Life doesn’t need to be in such absolutes!

In situations like these, I’m reminded of the advice imparted by my old swim coach. He used to tell us the story of the marathon runner running his first marathon. Instead of thinking about all 26.2 miles ahead of him, he just focused on making it to the first tree in his line of vision. Once he arrived at the first tree, he looked to the next tree, then focused on getting to the next tree after that. And then the tree after that. Until finally, he made it through all 26.2 miles.

I don’t need to accomplish every major task in one sitting, I just need to do something that will get me to that next tree. I don’t need to write a masterpiece every time I sit to write a blog post, but I need to put something on my blog, especially if I’m going to call myself a blogger. Your next piece of writing doesn’t have to be the next Great American Novel, but you still need to be writing if consider yourself a writer.

It’s so much easier to justify inaction, especially when feeling overwhelmed by wanting to do more than time will allow, but you do have to do something that puts you in the direction you want to go in. Remember, as Lao- tzu says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Just get to the next tree!

I’m Far Too Busy To Write This Blog Post

ImageLast week in the New York Times–or maybe it was the week before, I don’t know, I’m too busy to remember–there was a great op-ed about “the busy trap.” This piece highlighted what I’m sure all of you experience either personally or vicariously through chatty co-workers which is “self-imposed busyness.” These are the people who are always soo busy and can’t seem to find the time to do anything except work or take special classes or work some more. They’re the type of people you have to book months in advance just to have a cup of coffee with. They are addicted to being busy because they’re afraid of what might happen if they were not busy.

I am completely guilty of falling into “the busy trap.” When I’m not at work or working on something, I feel guilty. On days off of work, I constantly feel like I should be doing something to better myself–reading, writing, exercising, exploring the city, attending “events” (which are more of an abstract concept), spending time with dear friends, writing letters to penpals, reading periodicals cover to cover, networking, learning new things, cooking a recipe from Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. I never quite feel that it’s okay for me to kick up my heels and enjoy a good movie or spend the entire day at the beach. There’s so much else I should be doing!

Recently, I caught myself giving my friend the “I’m so busy” excuse for not being able to hang out more often. We’ve lived apart for so long and now that we’re both finally in Manhattan, it should be so easy for us to get together for coffee or a glass of champagne, or a walk through Central Park, a centrally located park between our respective Upper West Side and Upper East Side residences. She even pointed out that she walks by my apartment almost every day to get to her gym. However, I haven’t seen her in months. Why? Because I’m working and when I’m not working I’m resting and when I’m not resting I’m blogging and when I’m not blogging I’m eating and then I’m working late and I’m catching a drink with co-workers and blah blah blah and suddenly five months have gone by and—this is just ridiculous.

However, there are days when I don’t let “the busy trap” get the best of me and I indulge in my guilty pleasure  of doing nothing and when I do, it feels so good. Laying in bed until noon, eating a late brunch, watching movies, laughing. Why can’t this be the norm? There has got to be a way to find a happy medium between “the busy trap” and “the do-nothing trap.”

The good news is that there is a happy medium between the two extremes and that is finding work-life balance. The bad news is that I haven’t found that happy medium just yet, but I am working on it. Maybe if I wasn’t so busy I could just find this balance.