Being new to ANY profession can be incredibly frightening, especially when there's a guaranteed audience. New teachers have exactly that. My first day in the classroom was the first time I had been in a public school classroom in years. I had 56 eyes staring at me wondering what my next move was going to be. They had no idea. The problem was that I really didn't either. Being an alternative cert candidate (before ACPs really had there stuff together) I had VERY little preparation for day one. That said, here are some non-negotiables I've picked up over the past nine years:
GET CONNECTED - This one is at the top of the list for good reason. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, has been more instrumental in my growth over the past four years than my connections on Twitter. "I don't have time to mess with Twitter," you say? I would counter with, "You don't have time NOT to mess with Twitter." It's been the single best investment of my time and effort to build a community of support, encouragement, shoulders to cry on, and fellow edus who push me to new limits. Not convinced? Many of my "connections" started out as little more than faces on my Twitter feed and since, have become great friends. Here are a (very) few of my biggest influencers in alpha order. Click on their name to see their Twitter profile and follow them.
RELATIONSHIPS OVER RULES - Some may tell you, "Bring the hammer on day one! Don't smile until Christmas. Shove all of your rules and expectations down their throats out of the gates!" I believe there's a better way. Get to know your students. Make day one fun. Bring in some technology (maybe something as simple as a Google Form to do an "all about me" survey). Ask them questions (and listen to their answers). Allow yourself to be known. Talk about your family or your hobbies too.
Do we need to share our rules and set firm expectations for our students? Yes, absolutely we do. A game of football would be zero fun if there weren't rules. The question is, is day one the time to do it? I don't believe so. Start with relationships, then set your expectations sometime later in the first week. I wanted my students to leave my classroom on day one filled with wonder and excitement for day two. That's hard to do when all I'm talking about is what they CAN'T do in my class.
INVOLVE PARENTS/GUARDIANS - Our students' parents or guardians should be our number one partners in the educational process. In order to make this a reality, communication is a must. I recommend sending out some sort of weekly communication that includes the calendar for the week (especially if there are any assessments that week). Along with that, include some info and pictures of what's been going on inside the four walls. Be transparent. Welcome them into your classroom through what you're sharing with them. Make POSITIVE phone calls home. Typically, when parents see the oh-so-dreaded district phone number pop up on their caller ID it's exactly that...dreaded. Be the one who changes that. Be the teacher who calls parents because a student did something outstanding (or just something simple but awesome)! Build positive equity with parents. As a dad myself, this is something that I appreciate. In addition to this just being a nice thing to do, it will also help for those times you have to make the hard, but necessary phone calls.
TAKE YOURSELF OUT OF THE CENTER - Your classroom should be about your students, not you. For the first few years I was in the classroom, I spent most of my time being the center of attention. It was all about me. I lectured, and I lectured, and I lectured. B-O-R-I-N-G!! I introduced a topic, lectured with notes, we did a lab, we took a quiz, and finished with a multiple-choice test. Then I hit repeat. Thinking about this makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little. No Project-Based Learning. No authenticity. Zero student autonomy. No real world application. I owe my first (and probably my second, third and fourth) year students a big, fat apology. My good friend, Todd Nesloney, was the first person to expose me to the idea of student voice and choice; to the idea of transforming your classroom into an EXPERIENCE for your students to learn. Your students will never remember the killer, still-warm-from-the-copier worksheets you handed out to them. They will remember how you treated them, the voice they had, and the experiences you gave them. Give them your best!
STAY POSITIVE - Just to keep it real here, the first year in the classroom can (and probably will) be very difficult. It will be easy to beat yourself up for what you aren't that great at YET. Honing a craft takes time and that's exactly what teaching is...a craft. None of us are perfect and we never will be. My good friend, Aaron Hogan, just wrote a book called Shatter the Perfect Teacher Myth where he dives into this exact topic. I highly recommend this as a "must read" for any new teacher. Well, really any teacher. You can click here to order it from Amazon. All of us are works in progress and there will always be room for improvement. Focus on the positives, don't be afraid to fail, and grow where you are able. If you find yourself getting down and you're feeling beat up, go back to Tip #1 and find some other great educators to lean on. We were not meant to do this alone.
I hope these few tips help you to get on your feet and that your first year is amazing. Feel free to reach out to me (or any other connected educators) for more tips, advice, coaching, or encouragement. Best of luck to all of our new teachers out there and welcome to the best, most rewarding profession on the planet. Go get 'em!
Seeing as it's the middle of the summer and I have my first year in an administrative role behind me, I've had some time to reflect on some of the reasons why I do what I do. Here are four simple words I landed on:
Serve with your whole heart.
I love to help people. I haven't always been like this but if I can find a way to jump in and serve in any capacity, I love to. It just plain feels good to help others see that they matter. There is so much value in serving others and demonstrating that we truly care about them. I know that it happens but I don't want anyone to feel like they're only getting a portion of what I have to offer. Whether it be fellow administrators, teachers, students, parents (or any other stakeholder), they should feel as though they're getting red-carpet service every time they interact with us.
Learn from your failures.
Let's be real here...no one enjoys failure. It's not fun. It can be embarrassing. Sometimes, it hurts. However, if we are not failing on occasion I would contend that we are spending too much time focusing on our own comfort. I'm not saying that we should live in a constant state of failure or that comfort is a bad thing, but if we never step out on that rickety little limb and try something that's innovative or (Heaven forbid) disrupts the status quo, we might be too comfy. May I challenge you (and hopefully you'll extend the same challenge to me) to try something new this year? Maybe even something scary. And when you fail, get up, dust off your knees and grab the hand of someone who's further along the path of failure than you are and do it again and again and again until you get it right.
Grow because you want to.
We live and work in an age that has made connecting with, learning from and growing with others easier than it has ever been. With the simple click of a button, we can "follow" other educators in other districts, cities, states, and even countries. We can gather information, new ideas, or pedagogical tips from brilliant people around the globe from the comfort (see, I told you I didn't think comfort is always bad) of our own home. Yet, some of us still choose not to grow. We are fine with where we are. Our test scores are good enough. What we've done for 30 years is still working (news flash...no, it's not!). When we choose not to connect and grow, we are doing a disservice to our students as well as our colleagues. We are selling our students short because we have chosen to not learn from literally tens of thousands of brilliant educators out there in the Twittersphere. We are selling our colleagues short because we (and by this I mean "you") have brilliance to share that we (you) aren't sharing. You have something awesome to offer someone who needs to hear it. If we are going to expect that our students want to grow, should we not expect the same of ourselves?
Lead others to do the same.
If we want others around us to love to serve, learn from their failures and grow because they want to, we must be the example. We must set the bar high in the service that we offer, in the manner that we connect with others and borrow their brilliance, and with the growth that we are experiencing because we want to. Teachers, how are you setting the bar high for your students in these areas? Fellow admins, what are we doing to model continuous learning? If we, as educators, feel that we have arrived and do not need to learn or grow anymore, it may be time to consider a new profession. In reality, if we are not showing a passion for any of these, how can we expect anyone around us to either?
As a disclaimer, I don't mean for this post to come across as though I've got it all figured out. Please don't read it that way. These are simply some thoughts that are bouncing around in my head lately and areas in which I am learning and growing. I hope you (and anyone that you may share this with) are encouraged to serve, learn, grow, and lead in a bold way.
Thanks for taking time to read. You are appreciated.
"Southwest Airlines is now boarding passengers B31-60 from Chicago Midway to Houston Hobby" crackled over the speakers in the terminal. I walked down the tunnel behind the ninety people before me, suitcase behind me, stepped into the plane and made the right turn. The realization then hit me that my choices were going to be very limited. I moved down the long walkway looking (and possibly praying) for a not-middle-seat. “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t pass up those middle seats. We know this isn’t what you want to hear but that’s all that’s left.” Wonderful.
On to plan B: find a middle seat between two (preferably smaller) people. Totally doable. So, I find my seat, stow my suitcase into the overhead bin and shove my backpack into the storage under the seat. You know, the one that's not really big enough to store anything? In my seat, I strap my seat belt around my waste. As we move slowly towards the runway, the pilot announces that we have been cleared for take-off. The force of the engines smashing me back into my seat and my stomach swaps places with my small intestines as we begin to ascend. Within a few minutes, the pilot announces, barely loud enough to hear over the roar of the engines, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached 10,000 feet. You may now use your..." and the horror begins. “Waaaaaaaaaahhhh!” I think to myself sarcastically, “Great! I love crying babies. Especially when they’re sitting close to me on planes.” As she continued to cry, and people around her became more and more visibly annoyed (possibly including me) I had to remind myself, “Brent, you’re a daddy too and you’ve been there. You know, with the eyes glaring at you. Every eye within earshot of your baby.” That would be umm, all of the eyes on the plane because well, you’re on a plane. And YOUR baby is screaming.
I began to think about what I could do to take her focus off of whatever it was that had her worked up. What could I do to help her calm down? As I sat across the aisle from her, those big, tear-filled brown eyes made contact with mine. So, what did I do? I waved. Lame. She continued to cry and the tears continued to flow. Strike one.
She looked to her daddy and back to me, continuing to wail. This time I waved and added a big smile. Still lame. Tears like a waterfall. Strike two.
I went back to eating my delectable pre-made airport sandwich and Fritos searching for option three. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her looking back at me again so what did I do? I looked over and put both hands over my eyes. When I slowly opened them up, I saw a big, toothy grin. Grand slam! She giggled and looked at her daddy, back to me and back at her daddy. He glanced over and saw what had made her big alligator tears stop flowing and a smile flash across her face. In an instant, the panic drained and a grin of relief came across his face. Without even opening his mouth, he said "thank you."
Why do I tell you this story? Because it reminds me of our classrooms. And, no, not because we have crying babies. Ok, maybe some of us do at times, but that's not my point. Could I have quit when my first and second attempt didn’t work to help calm her? Sure, but why? Because people nearby might think I look like an idiot playing peek-a-boo with a baby I don’t even know? Because of the frustration of failure? Seeing her sitting in daddy’s lap, giggling and playing with his hat was worth looking like a fool and the failed attempts. Sometimes, as educators, we get frustrated or feel foolish when the attempts we make fail to meet the individual needs of our students. Do we quit? No. We make adjustments and try again. And again. And again…until we find the right fit. Because every failure we experience is worth it for that light bulb moment.
I refuse to quit trying when it gets difficult. Hopefully you will too. Keep pressing on and find your “peek-a-boo" because #KidsDeserveIt.
Brent Clarkson, M.Ed.