This year my school will be rebuilding our faculty after the biggest turnover we’ve had since I started 23 years ago. We’ll have so many new faces, it will feel like I’m at a new school too! What concerns me the most are the newest members of the teaching profession. These excited, young teachers are ready to change the world, but they are facing very difficult odds that they may not even realize yet. They are anxiously looking forward to their new adventure educating middle school children and I wish for them a wonderful beginning of a long, rewarding career. But I hope they’ll take some advice from the teacher who has been at my school the longest. (Shocking for me to admit!) I have some things I really want them to know that I believe will help them now and in the future.
I come from a LONG line of teachers, so here’s the advice that’s been passed down from one family member to the other:
- Seek out the advice of the veteran teachers and really listen to what they have to say. They will keep you from making many awful first year teacher mistakes.
- Don’t come in thinking you know more than they do. You don’t. Not by a long shot!
- Be nice to everyone and keep your personal opinions about people to yourself: Remember that you TEACH kids; you are NOT a kid.
- Go out of your way to get to know the custodians, the bookkeeper, and the librarian. You will need them much more than you might think and usually in emergency situations.
- ALWAYS make an effort to eat lunch with your peers and attend all get-togethers/socials. Yes, I know you have work to do. We ALL do. But you need a little adult time AND it’s important to build peer relationships too since your school is a family and you should be an active member of that family.
- Treat your students the way you want people to treat your own kids, and treat your peers with kindness and love even IF or WHEN they don’t deserve it. After all, we’re in this together! Remember that “please” and “thank you” can make a big difference with students and with your peers.
- Rules and Procedures WILL make the difference between a great year and a year of Hell. Find out who the best disciplinarian is at your school and go visit him or her ASAP.
- Don’t confuse your role. You are an educator, not a friend. Your students need guidance, education, and direction. They already have friends.
- And last of all, give credit where credit is due! Everybody needs a pat on the back and even a brand new teacher can make someone else feel needed and important.
When I became a teacher, my mother shared this advice with me as her mother did with her. After 23 years in the trenches, I have no doubt this advice has come in handy many times over. Just remember there are some things you can’t learn in college!
My mother also shared another valuable little gem the day I got my first job and found out my classroom was tiny and run down. I literally came home crying and told her, “My bedroom is bigger than my classroom!” (I had turned down two other schools to work at this one not realizing that the only room I would be offered was the one no one else wanted!) She said, “Honey, you have to bloom where you are planted.” I cried harder.
I wanted her to tell me that I deserved better, but she didn’t. Instead she told me to suck it up, do my best and make a difference. I stayed in that room doing just that and even made myself a poster with that quote on it. And I hated that room every single day, but I never complained to anyone except my mother and my poor, understanding husband.
By my third year, I was moved to a much nicer room and given the freedom to paint it any color I wanted. Heaven!
After two years in my nicer room, I was offered a position in the newest hallway where rooms had quiet AC’s and carpeting as well as new desks and my very own office! I had reached the top! Well, as far as rooms were concerned.
But by then I had come to realize that even though I was happy to have a new room, it was what I brought into that room that really made the difference. It wasn’t the carpet, or the new desks, or even the office. It was about me: blooming where I was planted. And the funny thing about blooming? It attracts others to you and makes them want to stick around!
So never forget how important you are. You may be the only smile your students see and you may say the only kind words they hear that day. Make a difference!