courtesy wikicommons

courtesy wikicommons

A Lesson in Pancakes

This morning, as I sat enjoying a grand round of homemade, blueberry pancakes, I couldn’t help but think of all the ways that the delicious breakfast food has taught me very valuable lessons in my life. Philosophically, I’ve learned that pancakes can equal love (my son loved his pancakes so much that when he was older, he created a t-shirt online that had a picture of a stack of pancakes slathered in butter and syrup with the words “I love Pancakes” stated above it…that was seven years ago, now in college, I spotted a picture of him on Facebook still wearing that shirt). Mathematically, I learned (according to The Pancake Theorem) that you can cut a pancake (blobs of some sort of roundish shape in two dimensions) in half with a single straight line cut.  Psychologically, I learned the lesson of “do-overs,” from the analogy of Dr. Phil when, according to him, his mother had a habit of tossing out the first cooked pancake because it was only after that, that the pan was just right for the others (I always selflessly eat that first one myself, saving the better ones for others…analyze that Dr. Phil). Yes, it seems that pancakes have always been there to teach me some sort of life lesson, and it was there, after my first year of teaching, that yet another life lesson came about, a lesson I call…The Pancake Theorem of the New Teacher.

Working from Scratch

Ask any teacher to remember their first year in the classroom, and you’ll almost always get the same reaction; tough, trying, rough, doubtful, yucky; not good. In fact, your whole first year seems to be more about learning what you did wrong, than what you did right. First Years are full of scrutiny, self-doubt and struggle. Students take advantage of your naiveté, you usually aren’t “tough” enough to start off the year (I had one of my teaching professors tell me that I’d better not show a smile until after Christmas), and you know very little about the operations of your new endeavor despite all the education and training you’ve had.  After the last day of school of my first year of teaching, I literally went into the private corner of the room and cried. Why? Because it was a very hard year, and not only did I survive, I lived to teach another day. If you’re about ready to complete your first year of teaching, don’t give up…your first year is usually the hardest because you’ve had to create your own recipe, and good recipes take time to perfect.

Stacked High

Decades ago, a new teacher was thrown into a classroom and left to his or her own devices, but today mentoring programs are in place, and even though funding for these programs have been greatly cut in states all over the union, schools still recognize the importance of providing mentors for first year teachers. According to statistics, ten percent of new teachers quit after their first year of teaching and fifty percent quit after just five years.  If you dig deep into this stack of pancakes, you’ll find new teachers that are knee deep in policy, bureaucracy, “family feuds” and high expectations.  As a new teacher, the absolute best way to survive your first year (or your fifth), is to not only keep your mentor close by, but reach out to all the staff members. The more support you feel, the more likely you’ll be to not give up when the going gets tough…and it will get tough…stacked high at times.

Top it All Off

The cherry on top (or butter and syrup) of your career as a new teacher, is to actually learn to slow down and enjoy what you do. It’s important for you to take your first year one bite at a time.  It can be overwhelming when you consider all the new programs, policies and curriculum that is thrown at you during your first year. Often new teachers want to make a good impression and they tend to take on too many extra duties or volunteers on too many committees or sponsorships. Don’t be afraid to turn down requests for your extra time by making it be known that during your first year, you wish to focus on the basics and that perhaps the next school year you will take on more.  You owe it to yourself, your family and your students to take it slow as you dig into your new position.

Good to the Last Bite

As you can see, there are many lessons we can learn from pancakes, philosophically, mathematically and psychologically.  Although your first year of teaching has perhaps been one that was stacked high with issues, I hope you will consider this theorem as your guide and not give up just yet. Your best recipe may be right around the corner.



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