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- Summer Break: An Antiquated Institution That Needs To Go - June 26, 2017
- The Post’s ‘America’s Most Challenging High Schools’ List Is Deeply Troubling - June 5, 2017
- I Tutored The Same College Student For 4 Years. Here’s What I Learned. - May 15, 2017
- The Sound and The Fury, The Bite Fight, and the Demise Of Standardized Testing: Part II - March 10, 2017
- The Sound and The Fury, The Bite Fight, and the Demise Of Standardized Testing: Part I - March 7, 2017
- Social Studies Lessons from Zootopia - April 12, 2016
- Commitment Is Key: Love and Logic In The Classroom - April 1, 2016
- Embracing Change: A Teacher’s Journey Across The Desk - March 15, 2016
- Crisis In Flint = Disaster For A Generation Of Students - January 15, 2016
Every March I fill out my bracket with hopes that the beloved Tom Izzo will take my Alma Mater’s Spartan hoop-squad to the final four for a shot at the NCAA Championship. Some part of me is hoping for the reincarnation of Mateen Cleaves to appear on the floor and usher the Spartans to the finals. Another part of me is still looking for the next Magic Johnson or Shawn Respert — Kalin Lucas is trying. Just as the madness of March gets my adrenaline going, keeps me awake at night, inspires me with hope and longing, and keeps my stress levels at a nice even 10 ohms, similar feelings are imparted upon my existence at the beginning of September.
As the dust of the end of August settles, I find myself frantically putting the final touches on my classroom plans, gathering resources for the mania of the month to come, and resetting my alarm for its usual 6 a.m. call. Entering my eighth year of teaching, this is early-year madness is simply part of reality.
But, for the 250,000+ first-year teachers, or veteran teachers transitioning to new places for the first time, September Madness is a month of nearly unmanageable insanity. Testing individual’s ability to cope with stress, plan, time manage, and balance, even the most prepared first-year teachers are challenged.
As I reflect on the past seven years in the classroom, I am inspired to share a few thoughts for those just ending the first month of their journey…
#1 – There Is Always More
When I first started teaching, I would bring home piles of homework. I even had a “homework” bag that was full of papers I needed to grade, lessons I needed to review, and texts I needed to read. But, as hard as I worked, it was neverending. I could never get ahead because there was always more. For the hours of work I put in, I found that those hours begat more hours. After a few years I learned that balance was the key to my progress and, ultimately, my best anti-exhaustion remedy.
#2 – A Healthy And Rested You Is The Best You
Early on while I was teaching in Detroit, there were nights and weekends that I was up until the late-late hours trying to put the finishing touches on some project or planning lessons. To make matters worse, I insisted on going into work on days where I was only able to stand with the help of Tylenol Cold/Flu or some other health inducing agent. The most troubling part about both of these situations was that my late-night lessons were garbage, and my cold-laden teaching days were worse. Take your personal/sick days to take care of yourself. The best version of yourself is truly the best for your students.
#3 – Work To Understand Ambiguity
When I interview candidates for open positions at my current school in Philadelphia, one of my top questions of concern is how comfortable they are with ambiguity. So many days of teaching can be completely derailed for so many reasons. A great young teacher is one who understands that ambiguity is simply a part of the early days of the profession they have ventured into. The more comfortable you become with the reality of ambiguity, the easier it becomes to bring a degree of flexibility to your work, and mindfulness to your practice.
#4 – Find Your Feedback Group
Many schools pair their youngest teachers with mentors, Professional Learning Communities, or some other core group of people that are meant to ease the Madness. While this is a terrific practice, there is no predicting who you will find most critical to your progress as a teacher. Identifying this person or group of people and establishing some consistent way to solicit feedback from them early is a key to lasting success. The more quickly you can de-silo yourself from the island that can be the early days of teaching, the more quickly your craft will grow.
#5 – It’s Always For The Kids
In eight years of teaching, one of the phrases I have heard most frequently used to remind teachers of their place is: “…for the kids”. Many times it is administrators that say to teachers: Remember, we do this for the kids, or some other phrase that evokes teacher humility and is meant to stave off exhaustion, otherwise making everything okay. As teachers, we have already chosen this profession for the kids, and everything that comes with it: the long hours, the salary cuts, the extra years of graduate school, the dealings with parents, and all of the other extras. We already realize the value of working for the kids, so do not be fooled by the use of this phrase as a call for humility.
As you reflect on the insanity of September Madness, consider the 5 thoughts above for the remaining months of your first (or second, or third…) year. How will you bring poise, thoughtfulness, and wisdom to your first years in a tough profession?