How many times have I eaten lunch in my classroom while working? Plenty. Did it leave me feeling accomplished, satiated, and ready for the second half of the day? Rarely. At my first school there was a fabulous young lady who planned the daily activity of Lunchtime Magic. The concept was simple: come to a teacher’s room and eat lunch with other adults while talking about adult things. I left Lunchtime Magic each day feeling restored, invigorated, and ready to tackle the rest of the day living in the land of 12-year-olds. When I left that school, Lunchtime Magic was harder to find. But I still made it a point to get out of my room, find another adult I like, and eat lunch with them while talking about adult things. Teaching is hard and I need a break. Lunchtime is the perfect opportunity.
The Driving Range
I golf. I rarely get invited to golf because I’m a girl but that’s talk for a different day. A golf instructor once gave me excellent advice at the driving range. She said, “Your first 8 balls don’t count. Don’t get too frustrated or stressed and definitely don’t lose hope. Just swing, take note of how you felt, and swing again.” The parallels between this comment and the first month of school are extraordinary. Rather than 8, I would say I usually need 20-30 days to get my groove and even then I might lose it and need to re-evaluate my swing. I try to be kind to myself that first month. I go in each day, swing, and then step back and note how I feel. At the end of 30 days, or sometimes sooner, I start to see patterns of things that are working and things that aren’t. This is when I make big moves. But I have to give myself some days that don’t count in the beginning. I have to get warmed up. There are more balls in my bucket; I’ll focus on those.
The Rule of 5
Teaching is a never ending to-do list. I know that it is impossible to get everything done. There are days where I just need more time. But when I can’t have more time, I need to decide what is the most important.
A super smart teacher I know revolutionized my thinking around lists. 5 total. No more. The limit to 5 forces me to prioritize. 5 is manageable. When my day ends so does my to-do list. ✔️✔️✔️✔️✔️
Halfway there. It’s encouraging not because I’m halfway to summer break but because I made it halfway. And if I made it this far, I can definitely make it to June. Too often, I look back and feel like I haven’t done enough or I’ve left too much undone. This might be true but if I can re-frame and look at the past as a list of things I did (that happened, I did that), then it’s much easier to be positive in the face of round two. And round two needs my optimism and determination. I have to make space for the second half to be its own thing and it won’t be if I’m still stuck in November wishing I’d followed through with that classroom management plan I initiated. I can do this job because I am doing this job.
A Fresh Start
The essays were due back in October. It is now December in my first year of teaching. Report cards already went home. Yet, the towering pile remains. I haven’t read a single one, and there are more recent assignments that need my attention. What do I do with these forgotten essays that make me feel like a bad teacher while collecting dust on my desk?
I walk down the hall to confess my negligence to a wise veteran teacher. She listens well; recognizing my dilemma and affirming my feelings. Then she says, “Recycle them all. They’re too old to be relevant. You’ll feel better.”
Sometimes I need to be OK with the fact that I didn’t finish something I started. Sometimes I just need to recycle them all and start fresh.
I don’t appreciate people enough. The janitor who chats with me after a long day while sweeping my messy middle school classroom. The counselor who rushes to my class moments after I call with an issue. The librarian who allows me to send kids to her library on a whim. The special education teacher who is a tireless advocate and expert listener. The nurse who makes my students feel cared for. The mentor teacher who puts things in perspective. The principal who asks me how I’m doing. The student who comes in early to take down the chairs. The office assistant who makes my copies when I’m in a bind. The sports coach who holds my students to the highest of standards. The PLC that asks big questions. The co-teacher who is my balance, my strength, and my inspiration. So how do I share my gratitude? I make it a priority. I put it on my to-do list. I stop when I see them in the hall to say thank you. Or I leave a small gift. Or I write a quick note, email or text. These people make all the difference in my school community and deserve to know.
If we only talk about problems, life gets depressing real quick. I am in this profession because I find it rewarding, funny, uplifting, and challenging. I try to disengage with the chatter that involves blaming the principal, the vice principal, the district, Common Core, parents, the system. Talk like this wastes my time. The autonomy I have in my classroom day in and day out is overwhelmingly powerful. Change and opportunity are at my fingertips. If I can see the sky as limitless instead of falling down, I am a happier teacher and my students benefit.
Make Friends with the Librarian
Middle school librarians are a special kind of superhero.
The first librarian I worked with has powers of high emotional intelligence. She had visited my class during my first year of teaching to run a book pass. Later that day, she sent me the most affirming email I have ever received as an educator. And she copied the principal. Librarians get it.
The librarian I’ve known the longest is purely magical. She has planned lessons for me. She has taught my class with me. She has created step-by-step directions for using technology I didn’t know how to use. And, the most magical, she integrated theater into my class on multiple occasions in order to help students (many who had disabilities) better understand what they were reading. Librarians get it.
Librarian super hero #3 has matchmaking powers. I would email or call or slip a note in her box with a student name and list of interests. Oftentimes within that very hour, a stack of books chosen for that particular student would appear. Her powers to make readers out of the most reluctant students is awe-inspiring. Librarians get it.
Making friends with these school heroes has been a life saver. So grateful.
Cry It Out
Sometimes I cry. I cry because my students were mean to each other and it’s all my fault. I cry because my lesson didn’t go how I’d envisioned. I cry because the principal came in at the worst possible time. I cry because I’m overwhelmed. I cry because it’s 7PM, I’m still at school, and I have no idea what I’m doing tomorrow. I cry because I’m tired – just so tired. It’s easy to focus on the negative parts of teaching (especially in October when the honeymoon period is over and the fact that summer is gone and won’t be back for a while settles in). But if through my blurry eyes, I can see at least one positive thing, one thing that is going well, I can put myself to sleep that night.
“Don’t stay too late.” “Don’t go in too early.” “Don’t work weekends.” “Keep your balance.” Yeah. Right. My first year I stayed late, went in early, and worked weekends. I wanted to do a good job and that meant working a lot. I had to redefine balance. I needed a definition that worked for me.
Balance: attending happy hour on Fridays
My first few years of teaching I went to happy hour every Friday. I was filled with more than just greasy food and cheap beer at these soul-saving events; I received validation, laughter, encouragement, and release. Taking some time to decompress with my comrades was essential to my happiness. Friday would end, the kids would be gone, and I would be exhausted. But I never once regretted mustering the energy to go to happy hour. And let’s be real, I was home and in bed by 9 at the latest.