About Teresa

Teresa Cooper is a 30-something wife, mom and teacher from Havelock, North Carolina. She has a Masters of Science in Education for Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment from Walden University and a BA in Psychology with a minor in Creative from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Having struggled with anxiety and depression most of her life and later having birthed a child with autism, she is passionate about spreading awareness and acceptance of mental illness and autism and has been writing for Embracing the Spectrum since 2011. She also writes for The Mighty, The Huffington Post, and The Educator’s Room.

My first few years teaching were spent scrambling to assemble the perfect lesson plans that would engage my students and still be fun. I spent hours at work instead of with my family. I was completely dedicated and yet afraid of failure. I felt a little lost at times and sometimes wondered if I had made the right career move. So, if I could go back in time and talk to my younger teaching self, what would I say?

5 Things I’d Tell Myself in my Earlier Teaching Years

1.Calm down. You’re doing a great job.

As much as I worried that I was going to fail, that actually propelled me forward. I had some pretty awesome plans and lots of energy. I came up with things off the cuff, like turning a Beyonce song into a way to remember that negative numbers go “To the left, to the left.” Something that I would use to teach other kids for years to come. The kids played Battlefield to learn the coordinate plane. We turned fractions into animals. We did some pretty awesome stuff. So, former worrier (and future worrier)…you’re doing great!

2. The kids will appreciate you later.

The kids may have acted like they hated me, but now that they’re older, they tell me how much they appreciated me. Teenagers are fickle folks. One day they love you, and the next they don’t. Teaching middle schoolers for years, I’d find that much was true, but I still hated the days that they clearly hated me. I wondered if my classroom management was okay (it was), even though I had them under control. Truth be told, those kids would come back later and tell me that I had made a difference in their lives because I pushed them to be better, stronger students.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Sometimes, I’d get annoyed and not understand how a child could come to school without a pencil. Now I know that sometimes kids struggle to come to school with the “right clothes” and the “right shoes,” and that a pencil, though cheap, might be the farthest thing from their minds. Sometimes they haven’t eaten a proper breakfast and may not have even had a proper dinner the night before. So pencils are not that big a deal. Just let them borrow one and you can hope the pencil comes back but if it doesn’t, it’s just a pencil.

4. If you put your heart into it, it’s enough.

I used to spend hours looking for the perfect lesson plan. I still do sometimes. But the truth is, if you’ve truly poured your heart into what you do, it’s enough. You do what you can to make learning fun, and the rest is up to the kids. And not all lessons can be fun-filled. Sometimes the kids just need the practice to get better, and that’s okay too. Just come to school ready to pour your heart into your work and that’s all that matters. Yes, you still have to turn in those lesson plans and maybe they have to be formatted a certain way, but you are what’s important when it comes to teaching those students. You’re what makes the difference. If you just go in with the right attitude, it will all work out.

5. Spend some time taking care of yourself too

You can’t spend all of your time on school. I mean, you can, but you shouldn’t. If you have a family, your family needs you. More importantly, every life you touch needs you to be sane and happy. If you don’t feel good and you’re unhappy, you’re doing it wrong. Take care of yourself. It’s not selfish, it’s smart. After all, a happy teacher has more energy for teaching.

In the end, it’s critical for teachers to remember to love thyself in those moments when you have to choose you or your job.

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