0166: A Quick and Dirty Guide to Your First Year of #Teaching (Outside of School)
#education #firstyear #support
This post was inspired by a friend who is graduating and will start his first year teaching next year. These are some the things I didn’t learn until I started teaching. They have little to do with time in the classroom. It has everything to do with the side effects of your time in the classroom. Contrary to popular belief, you’re still a human outside of the classroom. Your identity as a teacher needs a break so the old you doesn’t disappear. I hope this helps. (Note: This is free advice. Free. It’s based on my experience. Use what’s good. Discard the rest)
1. You’re not as rich as you think
You’ll get your first paycheck. It’ll seem huge. If you’re anything like I was you will have been a few months without real pay. Maybe you’ve been living off of financial aid for a few years or a minimum wage job. And then you ran out of aid about a month before your first paycheck. So it’s ramen for one more month, and then you’ll be getting paid for real. The first check finally comes. It’s a sum of something over $1000, maybe more if your in the right state. It’s money, and you’re coming off a terrible bout with post-collegiate situational poverty. You’re hungry for something sexy (nice food). You’re stressed (we’ll talk more later about this). You have bills.
I was advised by a veteran teacher to have my first paycheck given to me in singles. All one dollar bills. From that huge stack I was to count out all my bills first: a stack for rent, a stack for electric, a stack for forthcoming student loans, etc. I was also advised to always take 10% off the top for myself. For a little fun. By doing this I would be able to see exactly how much I would need each month. I could budget this way. And, I would have rewarded myself.
Did I heed this wise advice? Of course not. I paid my bills up front. And even treated myself— up front. That was a little over two-thirds of my money. Less than one-third for the rest of the month seemed doable, except I forgot about a bill. So I ended up in the red. I was behind when paycheck no. 2 finally arrived. Things got a little better. I was learning. I got a car. With low payments. Learned to budget that in. Things went ok for a few months.
Student loans. I had managed to forget that I would have to start paying on my student loans about 6 months after I graduated. Into the red again. I had to make a new budget and catch up.
How could I have done better?
The first paycheck is small. There are lots of bills and things to factor in your budget: rent, utilities, car payment, student loans payment, transportation, food, entertainment, and so forth. You SHOULD make a budget. Money is difficult to play by ear. Especially when you’re stressed. Money that can buy things that relieve stress can and will become just another stressor if you’re not careful. Which brings us to no. 2: stress.
2. You’ll be stressed. Really stressed.
Your first year as a teacher is stressful. You’ve heard it a thousand times. You’re trying to get your footing in the classroom. How to get your students (of any age) to do what you say. How to help people learn (it’s a miraculous combination of a many things— you’ll see). How to stay organized, grade papers, get lesson plans done, call parents, blah, blah, blah. All first teachers try to survive. My first year was at a particularly violent school that functioned like a prison where the inmates and the guards were at war. There were rival gangs in the school. Police. Guns. Violence. Drugs. Etc. So, on top of the basic stressors I was working to build trusting relationships with my students who weren’t eager to trust a teacher. A kid brought a sawed off shotgun in during my first week. I got to deal with that. Fights. But, we got there eventually. And I had a great and peaceful time after some hiccups and hair loss. Again, I hope your first experience is a little different.
But, all that is just in the classroom. It’s a different world outside. It’s not wise to get married your first year. I didn’t, but I know why I was told that. I had a significant other when I started teaching. We’re married now years later, and I think that’s a miracle. I’m surprised we didn’t split. I could hardly hold myself together when I got home. I was seeing things up close that I really didn’t want to see. The violence. The pain. The struggles. The broken educational system for the kids I was teaching. I was no stranger to these scenes, but it was new to me as a teacher. It was intense. I came home tired and angry quite often. We fought at home. Rather, I would pop off. After the gun incident my lovely other asked me not to go back. We needed money and I was determined. Stresses in the classroom were deeply affect my life and relationships outside of it. I was taking work home. I was fueling bad habits to deal with stress too. Be careful with drinking, over eating, or anything else that can be harmful that might help you cope with stress.
What could I have done differently? What did I do?
I’ll answer the second question first. I kept a journal through my first year. It was my saving grace. It was good reflection, but even more it was my vent for some of the terrors and a place for me to share the joys. I wrote my successes, failures, and flub ups. It was tremendously helpful. Blogging would have been helpful. I also had a few veteran teachers there who would drop by and check on me occasionally. That helped some.
I should have been more adamant about building relationships with other teachers there. I could have done more on that front I think. Although, teachers don’t always take kindly to new fish. Moving along. I should have maintained a better routine. I should have stuck with a better, more regular exercise schedule. It helps with the stress. I learned to leave work at home. It was always there when I got back.
3. If you dress up as a character, say, a frog, change before going to the bank. You’re an adult.
This applies in multiple arenas. If you teach kindergarten, for instance, don’t forget to talk to adults like adults. In general don’t forget to have conversations with adults. Keep friends. Make friends who aren’t teachers. Make friends who are. Just don’t limit yourself to the teaching world. Be well rounded.
4. Your significant other and/or friends want to hear about more than teaching.
Be mindful of how much you dwell on your job. You are a teacher, yes, but you’re you first. Do what you can to be balanced.
5. Exercise, Try to Eat Right, if you drink be careful with it
All important things. It’s tough to stay healthy when your so busy and stressed. You can develop terrible habits, put on weight, lose control.
6. Find a Mentor
Find someone to guide and support you. Someone who understands what’s you’re dealing with. It’s tough. Don’t suffer alone.
Additionally, maintain/develop a strong support system. It’s tough to go it alone.
Let me know if there’s anything else I can share. Find me on twitter @educatedtodeath
And, excuse any grammatical wildness, if you please. It is a Quick and Dirty Guide.
0007: Cynicism is a teacher’s greatest battle (what do these tools do?)
Everyday a teacher wakes up to an endless list of impossibilities. The work is arduous, with little thanks or respect, and the results are seldom immediate. Additionally, there’s the battle to maintain focus on a goal that was often forgotten the moment the teacher was set in front of a classroom full of children or young adults who had all somehow managed to slip through the cracks. The challenge to remain authentic or human often slips my mind. So often, and so quickly the I turn inward and forget that my job is to connect to people in a meaningful way so they can learn. (My apologies for the abrupt shift from third to first person; I’ve already forgotten that I’m doing this for my sanity first). The moment I disappear from the realm of true practice is the moment my effectiveness as a teacher ends. Reflection without action is simply masturbatory. Just as action without reflection is activism. There has to be a balance. When the two are not in sync it seems the cynicism increases. I’m cynical because I feel helpless sometimes. My cynicism stems from an understanding that I’m only a small part of this assembly line that we call public education. I add on bolt to this vast machine that is a child’s education. I place a tiny bolt that, to them, if I don’t find the time to let them discover the purpose of the bolt, they may never uncover it’s greater purpose. We supply children with so many tools that are never connected to their uses. Our children have hammers with no understanding that its primary function is to drive nails into wood. Or, they know that nails are to be driven into wood, but they don’t know that pieces of wood can be connected to build something greater. Teachers and students lack the understanding that the tools they are given are for creation. Why else would a tool be needed? They’re all to progress something along, to push the plot forward. Instead, we all have a toolbox with no belief in the potential for their use. The division of subject matter into very separate boxes keeps us from ever uncovering the value of any of it. There has to be multiple opportunities for teachers and students to engage in collaborative problem solving. Teachers should work with teachers; students should work with each other; and, then the lines should blur. There is too much division; thus, there is no team. Just as subject matter is divided and distant, so are faculties, staffs, and students. Teachers fight the battle daily all alone. When they finally get together they’re frustrated from the day, and blowing of steam in a teachers’ lounge, or they’re enduring a meeting that provides them with the appearance of professional development, but is really just another set of obtuse instructions for how to apply the next band-aid to the problem of academics of discipline (both also separate concepts). Perhaps teachers and principals need to engage in authentic conversations as faculties with the set goal to decrease the distance from one another. Teachers are often afraid or mistrusting of their administration, and this has been reinforced through years of sneaky dealings and unprofessional behavior. But, that is not every administrator’s intention. There has to be a moment where authenticity begins and the distance decreases. The process will be arduous and will require efforts from teachers and administrators. Teams need to be built quickly for schools to run effectively. And yes, everyone is too busy to drop everything to build relationships, but if that is the only way to fix a problem, then it must be done. Something has to be done if teachers, administrators, and students are to continue forward.