Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: 11 Things New Teachers Should Stop Doing
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11 Things New Teachers Should Stop Doing

I'm sharing some of the big (sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking) mistakes I made in my first years of teaching.

Before I tell you what you should stop doing, I want to take you back to 2005 when I first began teaching (am I old? #idontthinksofriends). Pinterest would not arrive on the www for 5 more years. Teachers Pay Teachers did not come along until 2006 and really didn't gain momentum or hit its stride until 2014. I didn't post my first resource there until 2010 and most all of the resources available on tpt were plain word documents that were straight up what a teacher made just for their classroom. When I googled ideas for my classroom, I was sure to find some pdf's and helpful resources, but nowhere near the images, ideas, and lesson recaps written by a teacher blogger like we have available to us today. The world was different then. Today, you are no longer alone on your teacher journey and it is now so much easier for you, young teachers, to learn from your fellow teachers who have walked down that road before you.

Now, if you are like me, you are headstrong and stubborn, and you might not want to listen to me. In my first few years of teaching, I especially blocked out the advice of people who were just negative and burned out. You have to protect your heart and your mindset from negativity. I knew many older teachers looked at me as a beginner and I wasn't open to their ideas or advice. If you are feeling stubborn about the content of this post, I promise this is different. You are our future. And I want you to last. Read on and try to listen :)

1) Stop holding your pee. Did that make you laugh? Don't laugh too hard or you might wet your pants. I know you are holding it right now as you are reading this because you are just SO used to it. STOP. STOP. If you have a bathroom close by your classroom, train your students to be actively engaged and working hard while you step out of the room. {Independent reading time was always a good time for me to sneak out}. I preached and preached to my students about the injustice in the fact that they could basically go to the restroom whenever they asked and that I deserved that same exact right as a person. This meant that I should be able to trust them when I leave the room. {I'm going to admit that almost all of my students have enjoyed watching me do the potty dance a time or two! #notproud}

Now, leaving the room might not work for everyone, so get a plan in place that allows you to STOP HOLDING YOUR PEE. Grab the teacher next door to step into the hall and monitor your classroom. Grab a special area teacher or volunteer or just start calling down to the office saying "I've got to go, can you come watch my room?!?!?!" Another way to get around this {maybe obviously} is to make sure you go to the rest room during your planning time, as you are dropping your students off or picking them up and then go during lunchtime. I know I often skipped those opportunities to take a bathroom break because I wanted to get something done, but don't. Take a minute and let it all out!

2) Stop NOT drinking enough water. I know that you actually drink less water because of #1. You don't want to have to go pee all the time; well, do you plan to teach 25+ years without drinking enough water? You will shrivel up like a grape and become a raisin. No one wants to be a raisin. Drink water. Tell yourself and your principal that your priority is taking care of YOUR health so that you can be there for you students. Drink water, go pee, rinse and repeat!

3) Stop reserving your weekends for planning. Have you heard of Parkinson's Law? It states that "Work expands so as to fill the time available for it's completion."

Word, Mr. Parkinson.

This means that if you say you are spending the weekend planning and maybe you will have time for other things (like hobbies, eating, and taking care of yourself), then planning will eat up all the time in your weekend. Planning will extend itself into the wee hours of the night and the early mornings, and you, my friend, will end up having the Sunday blues, the "I'm a teacher, I can't have a real life" resentment, and will be on the road to burn out. The weekends this happened to me were usually when I had a new unit starting in the upcoming week in science or social studies. I put SO much pressure on myself to plan a complete, engaging, fun, meaningful unit that sometimes I just spun my wheels, when really, sometimes I should have just figured out the first step first and let the rest of the week take care of itself.

I can remember the weekends where I had plans to go out of town  and it just felt like I had to do so much to prepare--grade papers, think about everything that I needed to do and planned to teach the in the upcoming week, read some science info to get a better grasp on what I'm teaching, review the math book and outline my sequence of lessons, read all the books I'd be using for guided reading, and on and on.

I'm stressed just thinking about all of that.

4) Stop going at this thing all willy-nilly. You need to compartmentalize. You need to develop a planning routine. You need to decide specific days and times that you will take care of each aspect of your teaching responsibilities. For example, I had the luxury of duty free recess the past two years. That was my time to get my math homework ready for the week. If I hadn't had this time, printing math homework would have been a priority in my first planning block. My teacher friend always liked to use Friday afternoons to type up her newsletter for the next week. She could get it ready in about 30 minutes and she loved how it helped her think about the upcoming week before she left for the weekend. Last year, I started using this awesome to-do list template from Kristen at Easy Teaching Tools that allowed me to organize my to-do list by which day of the week that item would really be important AND which time of the day I would need to work on it--morning before school and morning planning or afternoon/after school. With this organization, I could see my to-do's and worry about my tasks when they were really a priority. This broke me from the "never-ending" to do list and to consider my tasks based on priority, not preference, which I talk about more in #11.

5) Stop considering not having children as an option. (I'm not joking!) Deciding that you won't have children because you put all of your energy and passion into teaching other people's children is just too much of a sacrifice.

Ouch.

Did that hurt anyone? I truly had myself convinced for a few years that I would just not have children. I could not see myself having a baby and teaching at the same time. Now, I've shared that I am taking time off this year because that is just what is right for me, and I do think a little one is in the near future, so I hopefully won't have to try to be all things to everyone, but if you are teacher, I know that you began your career planning to change the world, planning to make an impact.

I also know that your babies will make one heck of an impact on this world. I know mine will, so we owe it to ourselves to put ourselves first when it comes to hopes and dreams of having a family of our own some day. You have to trust that all of the other stuff will work out. I've seen plenty of amazing teachers balance family and not having children because you are a teacher is a sacrifice that you will eventually come to resent about your chosen career. You are not a martyr. You don't have to be. You are a person. You deserve a life, a path, and an identity outside of teaching. It's okay to admit that. I'm not saying it's easy or it doesn't hurt or it isn't hard, I'm just encouraging you to care MORE about yourself and what you deserve than you do about those children. {And I know that statement was not politically correct, but someone that you hopefully respect, admire, and appreciate needs to tell you that. And if you don't have someone like that in your corner, #letitbemeletitbe.}

6) Stop making exercise your last priority. It's important. We both know it. And it's so hard to make time for, but we need to make regular exercise a part of our lives so that we are healthy for ourselves, our family, and our students.

7) Stop feeling guilty that you had an idea that you didn't have time to implement (get used to it!). We have tons of creative BIG ideas as teachers. Jot them down for next year and just be okay with the fact that you are human and you can't always do every cool idea you come up with right away.

8) Stop staying late every single day. Decide on two days a week that you will stay late. We always had our staff meetings on Tuesdays and another day of the week was reserved for PLC's with my grade level team. Both of those days were already going to be late ones. So, I began to plan to stay late on those days and leave by 4 pm on other days. (That's still staying 45 minutes after being finished with car rider.) How do you make this work? Mentally plan that ONE thing you will get done before you leave. Try your best to get it done, near completion, and leave at 4 pm no matter what. Hey, this even means that you have to be packing up your things before 4 pm to get out of the door on time. Do IT!

9) Stop skipping snack time! I went through a pretty intense personal training program and the biggest thing I changed (next to three days a week of consistent exercise) was my diet! I started making sure that I ate a snack in the morning and a snack in the afternoon. Your body needs food every 2.5-3 hours. This is how you train your metabolism to stop hoarding food (as fat) in your body and to trust that YOU will feed it consistently, regularly, and routinely. Now your metabolism can burn fat for you and your blood sugar (and all the other good things) will stay stable.

If you are worried about your principal walking in when you are grabbing your snack, have a designated snack time (5 or so minutes with your students to give yourself a chance to eat.) My snacks were always a yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit in the morning around 9:30 and a peanut butter/banana in the afternoons around 2 pm. This allowed me to space out my meals and snack and follow the 2.5-3 hour rule. My students knew I'd be breaking out a banana and spoonful of peanut butter towards the end of the day. I chose to stop starving myself!

10) Stop waiting until summer vacation, a scheduled day off, an intersession or break to schedule your doctor and dentist appointments. Do you have students that leave early or check out to go to the doctor? #iknowitissoannoyingsometimes but you know what, I went for 3 years paying for dental insurance through my district and did not go to the dentist. (Embarrassing I know. Why do we think 20+ somethings can take care of themselves?!?!) This goes back to #8 and throwing all of my energy into all things teacher and not putting myself as a priority. Let's just stop doing that. Make your appointments for when they are convenient for you. Leave a little early or come in a little late. You really won't miss a beat doing this twice a year, you won't have to interrupt your vacations for these appointments, and you can grab a Starbucks on the way back to school. #winwin

11) Stop spending hours doing what you want to do and start with what you need to doFor so many years in the beginning of my career, I managed my time based on what I wanted to do for my classroom. I had no life (really) and I was truly doing what I had ALWAYS wanted to do, so I wanted to do things my way. I wanted to create, I wanted to design lessons, I wanted to spend hours searching for the perfect ideas. But, this doesn't always make common sense, especially when you are not completely ready for the next day. I think my attitude was that it would all get done anyway and I did not really have a grasp on how finite time really is for a teacher.

To tell the truth, I really did teach in an environment where everyone pretty much left us alone, at least for my first two years. We rarely had staff meetings, my grade level only met to discuss field trips and give feedback to the school improvement team or the PTA, you know, stuff we had to talk about, but never about our classroom instruction. Our school had not yet been blessed with the onslaught of so much training and so many committees. Really, if things had kept on going that way (not saying it was the best for teachers or students), I maybe could have kept up the "I just work on whatever I want and all of it will get done" attitude. But, we all know that what education was 11 years ago (yes, I know) is not what it is today. A teacher's time is never really our own #andthatissodamnsad.

Some of the mistakes I made set me up to resent teaching after years and years of working under these circumstances. New teachers, hard-headed, stubborn, change-the-world (and yes you are AMAZING) teachers, I hope you listen to me.

I hope you start taking care of your kind heart, guarding your personal time, prioritizing your health, and creating routines that help you plan faster and leave work at work more often. This might just be what helps you make it to the end and you will still be a rock star if all-the-things in your classroom are not perfect.

I'm rooting for you!

And I'm sure I've left some important things off this list because really, I could go on and on and on! Did something really important come to mind as you read this? Drop it in the comments and help out other teachers with your advice!


22 comments:

  1. Well, just about all of these are very familiar, and probably contributed to my burn-out! Thanks of saying the things that need saying. I don't know if I would have listened or not when I was new, but I hope other newbies will! Teachers need to take care of themselves, and not feel an ounce of guilt doing so. It's like the advice on the airplanes: you have to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others! Many thanks to all those in the trenches doing the hard work!

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    1. Yes! It is like the oxygen mask! You can only go without oxygen for so long! Thanks for stopping by Kerry!

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  2. I love your list! I started teaching in 1993 (and I'm not old either!) and made all of those same mistakes, and only found some of the solutions you suggest. It was a real epiphany for me when I realized that by not taking care of myself I was burning out, and letting everyone else down too. Now I stop and smell the roses!

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    1. Paula, thanks for stopping by! Yes, I agree. Stop and smell the roses! We have to find ways to create balance because teaching is a job that seeps into every single second of our day, even our dreams!

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  3. Thank so much for this. I was really starting to loose my mind. I do everything except I already have a child.

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    1. Brittany, thank you so much for commenting! I am so glad that something in this post spoke to you and I pray that you find balance in your teaching world!

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  4. I am a 3rd year teacher, but still making all of these mistakes. Reading this made me feel like someone finally understands! Thank you :)

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    1. I'm chuckling to myself right now....This is my 26th year in the classroom and I still make most of them, too! I have plans to avoid most of them, but I'm never 100% successful. Number 11 really hit home, though. I never really thought about that one....but it sure is true! : )

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    2. I wish I had had these lessons laid out for me my 3rd year teaching! So many of us can relate, but we keep doing what we love, often at the expense of taking care of ourselves! I hope you can make strides to create balance and healthfulness each year and I wish you a long teaching career!

      Tammy

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    3. Lisa, yes, #11 is important! For a long time, I couldn't figure out how I had worked so much but still was stressed out about what I'd be doing the next day! Priorities, priorities! :)

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  5. Thank you for this. This is my second year teaching and I can already see some of these things burning me out if I keep going at this pace. I loved reading this and will start following this. I appriciate the time you took to write all this and share your advice! Thank you.

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    1. Danielle, I am so glad this spoke to you! I think it's very self-aware to realize already that this is something to work on. Teaching really can take over all your days and nights, but it doesn't have to...we have to learn to set boundaries! Good luck!

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  6. This is great advice! I'm starting the year for me and making sure I start doing more for myself like exercise. I have kids so when I walk in the door I'm mom and have to fulfill my second job. It never ends! Teaching is my passion but I need to learn to have more balance.

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    1. Congratulations on making that decision Beth! I am so glad to hear it. It is so important for teachers to take care of ourselves---we are often the nurturers at home, the grocery buyers, the household managers, and being the manager of 20+ students all day can get overwhelming too. We put too much on our plates. I hope you can find the way to balance the passion and your dedication to your self!

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  7. Thank you very much for this great advice. I am a German teacher for very long time on the other side of the world, but I do the same mistakes!My school starts again in a few days and now I will really try to be more relaxed at work.

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting on my blog! I LOVED to see that this post made it all the way to Germany and that it was relevant to teachers there! I truly hope you are able to be more relaxed in teaching! I want all of our passionate teachers to LAST not just push push push until they can't do it anymore! Best of luck to you!

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  8. I so needed this right now. I found out one week before Christmas that I needed abdominal surgery. I worked up until my surgery day and have been fretting about returning (I am no longer getting paid as of today, because I have now used all my sick and personal time.) This is just the reminder I need. My kids will be fine, my finances will be fine (eventually😉). I need to make sure I will be fine as well.

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    1. Nicole, I'm glad you found this blog post at just the right time! I think teaching is quite possibly the guiltiest profession a person could ever be in. We work so hard, but it never feels like enough. Even when we make a concerted effort to take care of ourselves, I think many of us feel guilty because we could be planning or doing something for our families...but I DEMAND that we stop feeling guilty for taking care of ourselves! We have to be healthy in order to continue to make our impact.

      I'm praying for a fast recovery for you and that when you return, your chest doesn't swell with all the stress of the time you have missed. I hope your principal and colleagues are very understanding and supportive of your recovery! If there's anything you need for your teaching when you return, send me an email @ tarheelstateteacher@gmail.com.

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  9. Thank you for writing what all teachers need to read....not just new teachers. I am on my 3rd year teaching and I admit that I still don't have my balance down, but I do go pee when I need to LOL.

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    1. Haha! Nora, figuring out the best times to pee (and learning "I better go while I have the chance.") is key to being a successful teacher! Best wishes this year!

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