I was a classroom teacher for 20 years. Wow! How did that happen? I had actually lost track when the e-mail arrived in my in-box congratulating me for 20 years of service. I had known for a while that being in the classroom was not the best choice for me anymore… You know the year you caught every bug and cold that went around the school and got pneumonia? Well, that was my last few years of teaching. It was time for me to leave the classroom and get healthy. The 20 year mark seemed the perfect time to go!
I have to admit the 20 years kinda caught me off guard! What had learned about teaching in all those years?
Every Year is Different
Teaching is not a boring job! Even if you teach the same grade for a number of years in a row >>> each new class is unique. The activity that was a huge hit with the group the year before can fall flat with your current students. The guided math and work stations that were a chaotic mess one year…. well, your favourite part of the day the next year! One year Elephant and Piggie books rule the classroom and the next year it’s all about Scaredy Squirrel.
Because every year and every group of kids is different you have to be flexible. That yoga class you are taking will definitely help with your well-being BUT… that is not the flexible I am talking about. If you are too rigid and try to do things EXACTLY like the year before, or EXACTLY like you wrote your lesson plan or EXACTLY like the teacher across the hall… you will be frustrated and ineffective. If the kids don’t get something try teaching them another way, if they are super energetic add in lots of brain breaks and movement, if they are always breaking into song use music for transitions…. Be willing to make changes.
Routines, Routines, Routines
Now while flexibility and routines might seem counter intuitive… it is much easier to be flexible when you have some “kick-but” routines established. Routines help just about every aspect of your classroom and teaching. They make your classroom a safe and predictable place. They give students independence to do things on their own (because they know what and how to do things). They are a life saver when it comes to classroom management. Take the time to establish those routines at the beginning of the year and review often!
Different Seasons of your Life
Life changes and so does our relationship with teaching. Some seasons teaching will BE our life and others it will be our job. AND that is OK… and normal.
When I first started… teaching was my life. I spent my evenings and weekends planning, and laminating, and hanging out and talking about teaching with my teacher friends. Fast forward ten years and I have 2 kids and a husband who travels for work… I still love actual teaching but feel frustrated and resentful of all the prep and planning and paper work that I need to do on my own time. This is the season I discovered TPT (instant lesson uploads.. Yes Please!). A few years later my children are a little older and a half time position comes up…. I start spending my half day off creating activities for my class, reading pd books before bed, joining committees at school. Then in the past few years I started getting sick…ALL THE TIME… well then the actual teaching (standing all day, no breaks, recess duty) was a struggle. Another season for my relationship with teaching.
Whew… that was a little long winded BUT… important! Because although we are teachers we are also people with lives to live (the good and bad!). Being a teacher is always a part of who you are (even when you leave the classroom) but will not always look the same and that is OK!
It’s all about relationships
I think we all know that spending the time to get to know our students is important. But… don’t forget about other teachers, your administration, the office staff (you know they really run the school) and most importantly the school custodians. When I was teaching kindergarten our custodian was a grouchy old fellow but I made the effort to chat with him everyday after school when he came in to empty my garbage cans. That year he brought in his now grown daughters collection of beanie babies (like there were 100 of them!) for the class and took home and fixed our broken wooden rocking chair and doll house over the Christmas holiday. He had a big heart under his grumpy facade!
There is no right way
After teaching for twenty years I have seen “all the things” …. desks in rows, desks in groups, tables instead of desks, no desks at all, silent classrooms, loud classrooms, individual work, group work… and the list goes on. I have tried it all and some things worked for me and others didn’t. Just because the teacher down the hall has no desks and dance parties every recess doesn’t mean that they are a better or worse teacher than you. Just like students can have different learning styles I think that teachers have different teaching styles. I was lucky our school was not too prescriptive and our teachers got to teach to our strengths and our students benefited from the variety.
Read lots of books aloud
I had to add this because it was and always will be my favourite part of teaching! Reading aloud is accessible to all your kiddos; your readers and non readers, your listeners and yes even those little stinkers that crawl away under a table while you are reading… So read all the books! Get excited about reading all the books! And most importantly get your students excited about reading! This is what I miss about teaching the most…