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- Teacher Anxiety: How to Cope With Anxiety Under Stress - July 29, 2018
- Depression Kills Teachers if Left Untreated: It Should Not Kill Their Careers - July 23, 2018
- Amidst Declining Mental Health in Teachers, What Can Administrators Do? - June 30, 2018
- 5 Things I'd Tell Myself in My Earlier Teaching Years - October 15, 2017
- How Class Dojo Saves My Sanity Daily - October 1, 2017
- Surviving the School Year: Game of Thrones Style - August 27, 2017
- What to Change Behavior? Start With Class Meetings in Special Education - August 20, 2017
- When Your Administrator Doesn't Like You - July 3, 2017
- Conquering Teacher Biases Against Disabilities: Important Strategies - May 8, 2017
My first year of teaching, I knew nothing about teaching. I had a vague concept of what teaching looked like based on television shows, movies, and books. As a lateral entry teacher, I had to study and take a test that demonstrated my understanding of child development, special education, and the tenets of teaching and learning. As someone who had always done well with tests, I aced those bad boys, but that did not mean that I knew what teaching would really be like. Were it not for a really great mentor, my colleagues, my passion, and a willingness to ask questions, I may not have made it through my first year. Not everyone is as lucky as me. In fact,
Not everyone is as lucky as me. In fact, according to NPR, 49 states report a shortage of special education teachers and 12.3 percent of special education teachers leave the profession. For this reason, many schools aggressively recruit special education teachers, and that does not always mean that they are ready to teach, but it does not mean that they cannot learn. As teachers, there are experts all around us, and great mentorship is the key to survival. So, where are all these mentors?
Fellow Teachers. That's right. Look around you. Whether you are a first-year teacher, a ten-year teacher, or (God bless you) a 30-year teacher, if you need advice on the craft of teaching, there are teachers in your building that can help you. They are the biggest experts on education around! I think the biggest problem teachers often have is their ego. By that, I mean that there is this belief that because we are teaching others all day, we shouldn't also need to learn. The truth is that good teachers never stop learning. It also means that while we are the masters of our craft, we may not always be right. What separates a good teacher from a terrible teacher is not a lack of mistakes, but a willingness to learn from them. The best way to do that is through a free exchange of ideas among colleagues. The department chair is usually a good place to start.
Counselors. Did you know that counselors can also teach? They are also the best people to go to for advice about children. A good counselor will not only help you demystify whatever is going on with Johnny, but will also know some really great strategies for helping him be successful. Make friends with your counselor. You'll find out just how great an asset he/she is when you do.
Media Specialists (Librarians). Librarians are not just there to check books out to students. Your librarian can teach your students (and you) more about plagiarism and how to avoid it than you ever thought possible. The librarian knows how to find the perfect book for your kids, how to correctly cite source documents, and so much more.
Curriculum Specialists. It is surprising how many teachers fail to take advantage of curriculum specialists. Most of them used to be teachers, so they know what it is like to be in the classroom. They also have the time and resources (because it is their job) to find amazing ways to teach your curriculum. If you have a curriculum specialist in your school district and you are not sure how to deliver instruction, they make great coaches. Don't let a fear of saying, "I need help" get in the way of your taking advantage of great resources.
Not everyone had the same great start to teaching that I did, and I credit most of my survival of the first two years of teaching to my mentor. She was a great teacher with lots of experience. As a special education teacher, I leaned on her a lot, and she had a lot of knowledge to impart. She was our department chair and taught what was then known as the BED students (now it is called SED), so she walked me through IEP meetings, difficult parents, challenging students, school politics, and classroom organization. Mentors like her, though not always assigned as a mentor, are a gold mine, and these experts exist in every school. If you are not sure who that person is, just ask around. Someone else knows who can help you. If you got into teaching special education because of your passion for helping others, don't give up without first seeking mentorship with another teacher. Another expert in the trenches may be just the person to drag you safely back into the field.