I have successfully completed my first five years as an English teacher.
As an English teacher, I believe in stories. Therefore, it was only right to reflect on my first five years of teaching through the many stories that shaped my experience.The first five is a time for celebration, as the odds against a teacher in the first five years are stacked against success.
The Atlantic published an article in 2013 entitled “Why Do Teachers Quit.” Amongst my teacher friends, it was the topic of discussion. The article revealed that:
- 40-50% of teachers leave with in the first five years, according to a UPenn education professor who was a former teacher.
- 9.5% leave before the end of their first year.
So the completion of my five years of teaching is truly a victory. This post is about how to survive the first five. I invite all of you to take a journey with me on what I learned during my five years.
- Advocate for yourself. Make kind and firm requests. Don’t be afraid to ask for support. Support may be finding a planning buddy, observing others, or being observed weekly. Don’t get hung up on looking weak; you learn by doing.
I stood in front of a classroom of 28 students and went over the course syllabus. Mid-sentence, a student raised his hand and shouted out, “I need to go to the bathroom.” I said, “Just one minute, I’m finishing up now.” The student stood up in class and said “Bitch, if you don’t let me use the bathroom, I will piss in your trash can.”As you can imagine, I stood there stunned. I went home that day and decided that I will not be defeated. At the faculty meeting prior to school, I stood up to introduce myself, and when I told the staff that I would be teaching six standard level English courses I heard a snicker. I didn’t know that I had been stuck with the load that no one wanted. But I learned more about teaching that year and the power of low expectations and about the grace of having high ones.
- Get a life. Find a hobby that does not require you to think or talk about teaching. BURNOUT is real and if you don’t find a balance, you will crash eventually.
This year, I began to teach a heavier load of English courses and was added as the Lead in the creative writing program at my school. I was on a team to write curriculum, and I was meeting with many important stakeholders. As a way to get “fit,” I started taking a Zumba class once a week that turned into an obsession. Soon, I was doing Zumba twice a week, attending Zumba-thons and bringing dance into my classroom. I once used dance as a brain break, and my students loved it. Those Zumba classes were my saving grace and allowed me to disengage from the grind of teaching.
- Beat the parents to the punch. Get in good with the parents by learning to empathize with them (even if you disagree). Send frequent communications regarding your class, invite parents to see student work, send positive notes once in a while, and document electronically!
During back to school night, a parent looked at me and said, “You’re the teacher…You don’t look like you finished high school.” That was an instant blow to my ego, and sometimes parents can be more challenging than the students. But you must get parents on your side and do it quickly. Even if you’re not a parent yourself, try your best to see things from their perspective and anticipate any pitfalls.
- Personal relationships reign supreme. Put students first and find out their stories before you become obsessed with their learning style and scores on last year’s state test. Also, build those relationships with everyone in your school. Be mindful that each person has something to give.
I got a note this year from a student that simply said, “Thank you for being nice to me.” This was a girl that felt out of place and it hung on her bitterly. The relationships I cultivated with my students was my primary focus and I knew that if I could connect with my students, I could help them flourish during the learning process. Per sonal relationships can be built by learning personal things that matter to people, remembering them, and constantly checking in. Personal relationships are not limited to students. Don’t forget your co-workers (custodial staff, other teachers, and yes, admin!)
- Never stop being a student. This lesson is two-fold. Be sure to add to your professional toolkit. But MOST IMPORTANTLY, get into the mind of your students. Don’t be afraid to ask students what makes them tick and you won’t be too boring.
I ended this year with a play performance of “Romeo and Juliet.” For over a month, my sixth graders studied a middle school adaptation and rehearsed an interpretation of the play. As we studied, I remembered how much I loved this play myself and how the students lit up from doing a project. The key is not to be boring. Kids these days hate sitting and getting. My students loved the activity and were required to memorize lines and design costumes/props. It’s one that I won’t ever forget.
In conclusion, being a teacher means to give myself away. My heart, my emotions, my passion is tied into being the guide for others. When I stand in front of a classroom, my dreams and hopes are put there, and the fear of choking is always at my elbow. But it’s when I teach that my story is quietly revealed.
My take-away: Don’t be boring. Be cutting-edge. Forgive yourself. Form relationships. Have fun.
This is a repost from LeSean’s blog My take-away’s