As my twenty-year classroom teaching career draws to a close, I feel the need to share my reflections and important things I’ve learned.
There is nothing more important than classroom community. First and foremost, classroom community affects student behavior. It can give students a sense of safety and well-being. It influences children (and adult) perceptions of you and your teaching. When you take the time each year to devote to building classroom community, it is never time wasted.
Also from inside the classroom, never underestimate the power of proximity. Fred Jones wisely teaches that 80% of classroom disruptions happen in the green zone. The Red Zone is where you are (8 feet from teacher), the Yellow Zone is six feet farther (14 feet away from teacher), and the Green Zone is the rest of the room. Always use the power of proximity to your advantage. Evaluate the walking and traffic patterns in your classroom. Every year my students would christen me “the ninja” because I always manage to pop up from nowhere.
Organization matters. One of my favorite quotes is, “The best part of teaching is that it matters. The hardest part of teaching is that every moment matters, every day.” The more time you can save by organizing and preparing, the more time you have to spend on what matters – your students.
In that same vein, plan ahead, but be prepared to trash the plan. “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Even after twenty years, I always prepped a lesson plan for every class, every day. However, sometimes the best times were the moments when a teachable moment arrived and I trashed the plan to do what my students needed. Never be afraid to do that.
Expect to mess up – a lot. Teaching is an art and a science. You learn and grow as you go. I’ve gotten better with time, but I’ve also failed many, many times. You have to learn to let it go but only after you’ve apologized and made amends.
Model what you want from your students. “Life as a teacher begins the day you realize you are the head learner.” If you want to build readers, you must be a reader. If you want to build risk-takers, you must be a risk-taker.
Find your people. Ironically, teaching can be lonely, isolating work even as you are surrounded by tiny (or not-to-tiny) humans all day long. Find the people that lift you up and fill your bucket. Today, that can be the teacher across the hall or the teacher halfway around the world that you met on Twitter. Do whatever it takes to find the teachers that fill your bucket and avoid the ones that suck you down into a funk.
Remember that YOU set the tone of the classroom daily. My favorite teaching quote is, “Inspired enthusiasm is contagious.” Every day I wake up and remember something that was told to me as a beginning teacher many years ago: “Every day could be the day that a child reminds you of twenty years from now.” It is important for every day in the classroom to be our best day – our students deserve the best of us. Teaching is important because of the potential to change children’s lives and impact the future of our country and world through them.
Things I’ve Learned that are Funny but True…
The stickier they are, the more they want a hug.
Teaching on a windy day is rough.
But a full moon is worse.
If it’s raining, forget about it.
Teaching middle school is not that different from teaching kindergarten. Just bigger desks.
Difficult students are never absent.
I will always have marker on my hands.
I will ask my cat why he is making bad choices.
I can sense gum chewing within a one block radius.
It’s hard not to correct children’s behavior in public.
Teaching is the most physically and mentally exhausting job I’ve ever had.
But it’s the most emotionally fulfilling job there is.
My favorite Gandalf line is, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Twenty years devoted to teaching children has been time well-spent.