It’s that time of year when us teachers head back to our classrooms and begin to get ready for our new class of students to fill our room. If you are a educator, you may have been pinning away activities and room designs on Pinterest. However, as we start this year full of energy and new ideas, it’s also important to start the year off with creating boundaries for ourselves. There are four different ways that you should begin prioritizing when it comes to being a teacher this year.
- Be early– It is expected of substitutes to show up a few minutes before school, but I always showed up early, first in the parking lot and waiting for the school secretary to open the doors. I usually was the first one to the school. Why is this important? Of course we aren’t all early birds, but we should all know that the school secretary is the eyes and ears of a school and the first person you usually make contact with (they provide the keys and time cards). Be prepared to wait, but being early allows you to not come in when the chaos of the day has started brewing. This also gives you time to find the classroom and nearest restroom. It’s important to plan time to not only read over the lesson plan, but make sure you are able to navigate the room and where all the resources are. This will limit your time trying to find teaching resources during the day.
- Be a presence– If you want to be remembered, people need to know your name. Sit in the lunch room with teachers and try to engage in conversation (sometimes it can be intimidating, but just saying hello and that your are subbing for so and so can get the ball rolling). They will often share with the absent teacher what kind of person you are. And if you shine, like you will, they may request for you to sub their classes. Often times I would be requested by teachers I had never met, but who knew of my positive reputation.
- Bring a journal– This may have been the single best thing to have coming out of subbing and into teaching. At first, I used to keep all the lesson plans that were left for me to follow, but this became cumbersome and honestly, what was I going to do with a hodgepodge of lesson plans from different grades and subjects. In my journal, I kept notes of helpful things that I would help me later in teaching. What was their classroom management style? What tricks did they have for getting student’s attention? How did they do reading instruction? Math? It was also fun to record the silly and crazy things that happened. It will also help you to reflect on the day and learn from your mistakes and know how to better prepare for the next time that issue arises.
- Pull up that sleeve of tricks– This is broad, but be sure to bring your personality or something fun into the classroom with you. If you love art, music, games, trivia, include it in your day. You’ll win more student will some fun in the classroom. When I taught older grades I would bring brain teasers and do them during transition times, before school, before recess. It allowed for students to come in and be intrigued and realize that I had something ‘cool’ that their teacher didn’t do. Remember the kids will share with their teacher how well you did and this business of subbing is all about networking, even if you don’t want to be a teacher. You have to play the game if you want more shots at the basket.
- Always have a Plan B– Sometimes you’ll walk in and there won’ t be a lesson plan or the computer isn’t working. Be prepared! Come with some activities or a read aloud, anything that will fill some time while you get your barrings. However, if you follow number 1 and arrive early, you will have time to fill in lesson wholes or no lesson at all. Also start to practice some classroom management skills because students will likely test you the moment you start class. Whether it’s a list of names for the teacher or a reward system, come each job with some sort of strategy in case the teacher that you are subbing for doesn’t have one.
The Reason I Became an Educator
I was a model student: Fearless of the front row, hand raiser to the extreme, and more bold than an exclamation point (but still respectful). By no means was I exceptionally talented or unusually gifted; however, I did not fear going to school. I loved projects. I loved homework. I loved taking notes (I never said I wasn’t weird). The job of teaching didn’t appeal to me at the time; I was more eager at the idea of becoming a lawyer or news anchor – something where I knew my (sometimes loud) voice would be heard. Little did I know that my first job as a gymnastics coach would end up being the catalyst to my start as an educator as I learned of a new passion: Teaching.
As a gymnastics coach, I learned how much I loved differentiating for students. I enjoyed the puzzle of each child and the challenge to tailor my approach for each of them based on their personalities and learning styles. Each week at my job we would undergo lesson plan training on how to, you guessed it, lesson plan. Although we had to stick to the created plan, we were given freedom in how we delivered the lesson. I remember driving home from work each day, constantly thinking about my students and how to inspire them more. I began to see that there was a direct link between how students feel about gymnastics and how much their teacher cared and supported them (not just physically). I observed on a weekly basis coaches not showing up to work (or dragging themselves into work and very clearly not excited to be there) and the impact it had on the children and their participation. Not only were children lackadaisical when they were there in class, but the classes themselves started to dwindle in size. In the immortal words of Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” My observation proves that the same can be said about children.
After learning of my interest in working with students and my newly found passion of differentiation, I began to look into the profession of teaching. It seemed to have a stereotype of being an easy field of study and career path and I was surprised when I discovered the volume of work involved to enter the field of education.
On my first day of my first class, my professor told us that we would not all finish this class, and that many of the students would not continue on as teachers. Simply put, the odds of me becoming a teacher, according to my professor, were stacked against me. My heart broke. Would I be one of these students she was referring to? Would teaching cease to be my passion as I expanded my understanding and saw the reality of what teaching looked like in a classroom? Slowly I began to see what my professor was talking about. Many of those that were in the teaching program with me made the decision to not be one of these statistics (including myself). We had to dig down deep and encourage each other along the way as we sought to become the teachers that we aspired to be and teachers that we wish we had while we were going through school.
Over time, (while I was completing my Education degree, securing my credentials, and beginning my substitute teaching) I started to develop a bigger reason to why I wanted to become an educator: I saw a serious lack of passion in (several) teachers that are actively teaching the classroom today. In my career as a student, I rarely had issues with teachers (I was teacher’s pet, remember?). Some of my loved ones growing up didn’t fare so well. I saw my sister struggle through school because of a constant comparison between my skills and hers by teachers. I also heard horror stories from my boyfriend at the time (now husband) and how he had one great year of school. ONE YEAR!!! One teacher where he felt the teacher believed in him and saw his potential of something greater than what he had been able to accomplish to that point (his typical report card had more C’s than a world map). It broke my heart to know that not everyone had loved school like I had. Moreover, had such a difficult time and passionless teachers leaving them feeling inadequate and below their student piers and hating school. This became my driving force. It became my penetrating focus: I would (and still do) strive to validate and appreciate EVERY student’s learning needs by differentiating my instruction, meeting them where they are.