I've been observed 3 times this past week; either I'm wowing them or they're looking for the bodies. This is my third year. I'm up for tenure.
One of the tragicomedies of American education is the tenure system. This year an innocent comment misinterpreted by a 14 year old can get me looking for a commercial clamming license. Next year, once tenured, anything short of a felony in the classroom (and even then it's even odds) won't warrant the time needed to get me booted.
So I enjoy the parade. Worst comes to worst, I sling a stethoscope around my neck and start succoring the afflicted again.
So, a list. Bloggers love lists.
Here's what I know as a 3rd year teacher I could not possibly have known as a greenhorn.
1. No matter how much you sweat you put into a lesson, it is not the students' obligation to appreciate it.
We've all been there. We put together the lesson of the century, a lesson that would make John Dewey misty eyed.2. Stay out of the teacher's lounge.
You spent $126 on the materials.
You have an anticipatory set that could waken your long-dead great grandmother.
You spent 27 hours preparing the lesson, the glow of the monitor highlighting your maniacal grin as you fantasize about the anticipated eagerness of your lambs eating up your lesson.
You forego tickets to the 7th game of the Rangers/Devils Stanley Cup playoffs.
You turn down Willie's invitation to travel for a week on the Honeysuckle Rose.
You even stop playing solitaire.You are a freakin' professional!
And the kids yawn. In your face.
Welcome to teaching. It's not about you.
No, really. It's a trap. If you need to complain, you need to get out.
It's a great field. You get to teach children. You mold future citizens. You get to see a side of children even parents never see.
It's a gift, an honor, a raison d'etre. ( Feel free to add the circonflexe--I'm a Luddite.)
It's easy to complain about the hours (no longer than a laborer picking grapes) or the respect (no less than the security guard sitting in the lobby of your school) or the students (you want to work with humans, you're going to get human behavior) or the pay (hey, I make more per hour as a teacher than I did as a doc).
The lounge kills hope. You need hope to teach.
3. Textbooks are like crutches...wonderful if you need them
Textbooks can save your life (but not your soul) that first year, when even the mere act of micturition requires three weeks of planning.
It gets better by the third year. Really. So much better you can now pee without consulting your calendar.
Textbooks are written by committees. Students don't need committees. They need you. Wean yourself.
If you don't believe this, go join a committee.(A confession: I still spend too much time using textbooks--I'm working on it.)
4. Teach to the child, not the test.
Turns out the test just isn't that good, at least not around here. And I hear from other bloggers, it's not so go around there, either.
Ben Wildeboer (Sustainably Digital) notes that lousy tests "perhaps do serve a valuable purpose...."When I start to feel myself get stressed about falling behind and not going over all the required content, remembering that the standardized tests will be poorly written and not do a great job of assessing the standards makes me feel better about not covering everything I’m “supposed” to.
The child will remain reasonably intact for the next few decades, barring a motor vehicle accident or HIV, or one of the amazingly rare reasons young adults die (but get great press when they do).
Tests, on the other hand, change all the time.
New superintendent? Reform.
New governor? Reform.
New President? Reform.
Kids are fairly stable--a couple of billion years of evolution are not influenced by the thoughts of the newest Administrator in Charge. Keep things in perspective.
5. Use what works, ignore what doesn't.
During my formative years, I had a couple of diametrically opposed adjunct professors. One was an elementary school teacher by day, the other a principal.
(Despite having a career in the "real world", I didn't go the alternate route. I took education classes before I tortured young adults as a student teacher. Nothing--and I say that without apologies--nothing can replace the student teaching experience for folks arrogant enough to believe they can teach.)
The principal had the proper accent and a better command of the language. She preened, she preached.
The teacher knew her stuff, but was not nearly as polished. Here's what she said.
If it works, use it. Put posters over the door to prevent snoopy administrators from peeking in, play the game, but teach your students. That's why you're there.
Never forget you matter.
Not all folks grasping the administrative brass ring are in it for themselves, but enough of them are that you need to interpret motives.
So I teach.
I see what works, and (painfully) dissect what doesn't. Tomorrow is another day. Keep plugging, keep analyzing, keep working, and keep your sense of perspective next to your Excedrin.
6. Keep your educational philosophy within an arm's distance.
I was warned.
There will be days when you wonder why you quit your day job to become a public school teacher position. There will be days when others wonder the same thing about you.
And there will be day's when your biggest doubter will be yourself.
So write that philosophical statement. Read it. Soak it in. Allow yourself to believe it matters. It does.
Keep it handy.
Read it again in November, when the words are blurred by tears, by sweat.
The day you stop believing what you do matters is the day you should quit.
7. Goal directed exhaustion is OK at times
You chose this field.
Your field matters.
A hundred years from now, what you do today can matter.
Make it matter.
A few colleagues (usually found in the lounge) may tell you that you are working too hard, that you will learn the hard way, that you will burn out. A (very) few will even brag about never bringing home work as they physically fly out the door 10 minutes after the last bell, a door they flew out of spiritually years ago.
They're right--a lot of us will flame out. Honeybees work themselves to death, but they do worthwhile work.
You are going to die, too. Might as well do something special while you're here.