My Top 10 Mistakes as a First-Year Teacher

You are told over and over in college that reflection is one of the greatest attributes of a good teacher. It’s true. As I begin my second year with a whole new outlook on my career, it has been easy to spot the things that made my Year One a tough year. If you’re a (future) teacher, hopefully you can find yourself inspired or share advice!

1. Letting the negativity suck you in.
This is the #1 thing that ruined my first year…and almost made me quit the career I had dreamed about for so long. Teaching can suck. The pay sucks. The unpaid overtime hours suck. The inability to get a raise, bonus, or promotion sucks. Kids’ attitudes can suck. Teachers’ attitudes can suck even more. My first year, I listened to so much complaining and so many teachers looking for new jobs that I was scared. I thought, if these people hate it that much, what will happen to me? Should I get out while I’m ahead? I almost did. I almost let the negative vibes of public education get me, but I stuck it out, and now I’m approaching Year Two with the mantra “Good Vibes Only.” It’s a common saying in Hawaii, but you can see the result in the Hawaiian culture. Some people see rose-colored glasses as a bad thing, but in education, they’re the only thing you can have to shield yourself against the negative vibes.

2. Bringing work home.
I was listening to someone today say that there’s no way you can not bring work home. However, I did it towards the end of last year. Of course, there are exceptions, like when 110 essays are turned in 4 days before the end of the semester. But I promised myself to get my grading, project crafting, or whatever else done at school. This helped me keep my sanity and balance. When I was bringing work home, I stayed up way too late and neglected my house and time with family and with myself. After finally feeling relaxed in the evening, it motivated me to work diligently during planning and those rare moments when you can grade during class. Just try it.

3. Being a loner.
Of course, it’s hard during the first year to jump into groups, clubs, or sports. People thought I was crazy for coaching my first year, but I made it work and knew it would only get easier next season. Coaching put me on a whole new level of respect with my students, which really changed the dynamic of my classroom. But don’t just get involved with students; get involved with teachers. I joined our marathon training group at school. A group of us ran every day after school on a training schedule, and then we ran the Monument 10K together. I also joined yoga classes my school held for teachers each Wednesday. After joining these groups, I could say “Hey” to teachers in the hall and have conversation to make. You don’t have to be BFF’s with every teacher in the school, but the more teachers you can comfortably talk to, the better.

4.Succumbing to testing culture.
I didn’t do it my first semester, but I did my second semester, and that’s what almost pushed me over the edge. After I had great state test results from my kids first semester, I felt a lot of pressure to have my second semester kids perform. The truth is, they just weren’t as bright as the bunch before them. But I beat myself up and let test-prep take over my curriculum. Not only did I lose my curriculum, but I lost my passion somewhere in there. It does help that I am not teaching a tested grade this year, but even before that, I had promised myself that I was not going to teach to the test again, regardless of the pressure.

5. Letting parents run the show.
Okay, not totally. The goal is to not let parents run the show, but to let them think they’re running the show. It’s hard to find a balance. I teach Nine Honors, so I have parents who are reluctant to let their babies fly the coop to high school. And parents who watch their kids’ grades like a hawk because they want them to get into Harvard. This means lots of snotty emails. At first, I was snappy. Then, I was soft. I finally learned that I had to put my foot down and be real and frank with parents–but in the most polite way possible. When you find that balance, you will be able to please parents (enough) without sacrificing the way you run the classroom.

6. Not letting your personality show.

Even though you technically have to be professional and mature in the classroom, it doesn’t mean you have to be a robot. I think that’s one of the things my students prize the most about our class. When something is funny–even if at the wrong time–I laugh. I joke with the kids and we take playful jabs at each other. We get way off topic about sports, entertainment, and who knows what else, and I willingly let it happen. Kids need that. Some may think that getting off topic can totally ruin a lesson and lose kids, but in my opinion, it does the opposite. When you seem human and you talk about human things, kids focus in on you. They want to hear just how normal you are. They want to talk sports with you. Then, when you switch back to English, they stay focused. They have this new desire to listen to what you have to say. They have respect for what you say. Maybe this won’t work in every classroom, but it works in mine! 

7. Putting too much effort into the wrong things.

My first year, I dedicated way too much time to wall posters and color coding and labeling. By the end of my first year, the labels had peeled off, no one had even looked at the posters, and all of my color coded binders were out of order. I always felt swamped with work last year, but it’s because I wasted a lot of time trying to be the organized, aesthetic, prim and proper teacher. This year, I put up half the posters, I threw away a lot of my organizing stuff, and I didn’t do anything fancy with my desks or room. Kids don’t care about how many posters you have on the wall, and me having 15 color-coded folders doesn’t help me…not one bit. Focus all of your energy on creating awesome lessons with awesome materials. That’s where the hard work should go.

8. Talking badly about your job, your admin, parents, or students.

It’s so easy to do, and it has so many consequences outside of just pissing someone off. Last year, in a staff meeting, a guest speaker talked to us about the disconnect (and dislike) that exists between parents and teachers, teachers and admin, and parents and admin. We are all one giant cycle of hating each other. That cycle of hate screams to the public, “Don’t support us. We’re a wreck!” So then, you lose your general support from the public–donations, taxes, attendance at events. And then, there’s just the pissing people off part. Parents, especially. In the small town where I work, it would take .002 seconds for a rude Facebook post to end up before the parent or other teacher’s eyes. Don’t say it or post it. Just let it go.

9. Being “okay” or “content” with your instruction.

I hardly changed a single thing between first and second semester last year. Then, this summer, I got inspired again and have so many new, cool ideas (or at least I think they’re cool). My second semester kids felt it. They knew I was dragging my feet in the mud. Although new content or new instructional delivery methods take work, they make you excited to try something new, and the kids see that excitement. When you get into a pattern of doing the same exact thing for semesters or years in a row, the kids here the monotony. My favorite place for new teaching ideas (and everything in life): Pinterest.

10. Not reflecting.

It doesn’t take a blog to reflect on your past year, and you shouldn’t just be reflecting after a year. Reflection, especially as a first year teacher, should be a constant thing. An every-hour thing, an every-period thing. Knowing something didn’t work and not attempting to reflect and fix it is an awful idea. More than it hurts you, it hurts your kids. Maybe even think about having one notebook just for reflecting. My reflection is usually in the form of Post-It notes stuck on my desk. I might write “The plot elements lesson was awful. Change it up to be more of a visual representation versus lecture.” If I have time, I might even try to change it before the next class roles in. Constant improvement. That should be one of your lifetime goals as a teacher.

 

Teaching, for me, was nothing like what I thought it would be. My heart was broken after my first year. I realized how much testing and administration takes over your classroom, and I wasn’t okay with it. I was watching this awesome video by Rita Pierson called “Every Kid Needs a Champion” during a faculty meeting, and she said something that totally stuck with me. She said, “We teach anyway.” She made note of all of the testing, the adverse conditions, the people breathing down our back, the terrifying students, and she simply said, “We teach anyway.” That really hit home for me. In that moment, I remembered why I signed up to do this. It wasn’t to please admin, and it wasn’t to get good test scores. It was to teach, and that’s what I’m going to do.

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Dinner Planning 101

I have found that a sure-fire way to get fat and be broke is to not plan weekly dinners (and lunch if you work in an office or home setting). I’m a teacher, so I don’t have a choice but to pack breakfast and lunch (which is typically leftovers). However, on weeks when I don’t plan and shop for set dinner meals, we end up eating out like 3 of the 7 nights, and eating random junk another 3 of the 4 nights left. Ouch on the abs and the wallet. My pretty fail-proof method is:

1. Pin realistic dinners on Pinterest.
I have a whole board dedicated to dinners, and I have another board called “Meals that Worked.” When one of those Pinterest recipes turns out successful, I move it there. One easy mistake to make is to pin gourmet chef meals that require a lot of time and strange or uncommon ingredients. Chances are, you’ll never actually make it.

2. Each Saturday (or whatever day you pick), access your Pins or your brain for a week’s worth of recipes.
Pick 7 and simply write them down or keep mental note. If you know there’s going to be a few days where you have to eat on the go, then just pick 5 or 6. I always shoot to eat in at least 5 days a week. On the weekends, we treat ourselves.

3. From those meals, make a grocery list.
Check out the Pinterest recipes, or the ones you’ve memorized, and make a grocery list for the meals. I usually make my list on Saturday and shop on Sunday (a.k.a. Sunday paper coupon day). I prefer a paper list over an app.

4. Look at your weekly schedule and place meals on certain days.
Something else to consider is how ling each meal takes to prep and cook. I save quick meals for hectic nights or days I have faculty meetings. This is where crockpot meals come into play, too!

To do step #4, I use the app MealSchedule. I searched through a billion apps that wanted me to enter in full recipes before I could drag and drop them to the weekly menu. This 0.99¢ app lets me JUST plan meals, nothing more, and that’s all I needed. My favorite part is that you can move meals (or just parts of a meal) to other days in an instant. Plans never work 100% when you have a 1-year-old, a demanding job, and a night-shifter husband. This app isn’t a mega popular one, so it’s a little primitive looking, but it functions perfectly! See my screen shot of this week’s meals below. (We are moving Thu/Fri, hence the takeout meals).

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Teaching High School English: Year 2

In two more weeks, I’ll be preparing to get my second year of 9th grade English students. Last year, I had a mixture of 9 Honors and 11 Academic (a.k.a average/standard). This year, I have my 9H group, but they threw me for a loop by trading my 11 for 9 Collaborative. I’m looking forward to having a co-teacher, but did I mention I am terrified of working with students with special needs? If I’m being honest, I’m pretty clueless. I was identified gifted in 2nd grade, and I was essentially isolated with a group of about 10 kids in my city from 2nd through 8th grade. Then, in high school, I took Honors/AP everything. I’ve never even shared a class with a student with any issue aside from a behavioral disorder. I’m worried I won’t be able to communicate effectively or meet all of their various needs. I know my co-teacher for those classes (who I like, thank goodness) will be a huge help, but I’m still so nervous. Not to mention, over the summer, I feel like I forgot how to even get ready for work, much more TEACH teenagers stuff. I’m freaking out a little. I’m going to guess that once I get back in my room and get going, I’ll chill out, but right now, I’m way more terrified for Year 2 than I was Year 1. I also have to revamp my discipline system. I haven’t had to deal with many behavior issues aside from some cheating and an occasional cuss word. I’m very much against calling kids out or going in the hall during class. I like to keep teaching and keep them from being embarrassed. I need a red-yellow-green light type system, but in a way that it fits high school. It’s harder than it seems. Even the teacher community on Pinterest gave me nothing. The only other tough thing is going to be differentiation between my Honors and Collab. We’ll be doing most of the same material, but the instructional delivery, practice, and assessment will have to be totally different. I’m just going to keep breathing and telling myself it will all come together.

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I Suck at Eating Healthy

Once again, I have taken two steps backward. Lost 5 pounds in two weeks, gained 5 pounds in the next two. I can work out all I want, but my problem: FOOD.

I am a foodie, but in the gourmet comfort food way. I like family-owned donut shop donuts, and bacon, and sweet tea, and fried chicken, and…and…JUNK. Ugh, and don’t get me started on baked goods. Mug brownies are my current weakness. It is so stinking hard to eat healthy when I love food that much. And honestly, I love a six-pack and smaller jeans more. But my will power blows. Like when my husband bakes me a heart-shaped cake, I eat it. When my aunt mentions Bo Berry Biscuits from Bo Jangles this evening, I will crave them until I eat them tomorrow for breakfast. Whhyyy?!?IMG_2112-0.JPG

I just want to proclaim that my will power sucks when it comes to comfort food. And I know it is the one and only reason I don’t make progress.

Do they have AA for comfort food lovers? Please sign me up.

 

I Hate Night Shift

It’s not easy to pretend otherwise. This morning, I lashed out at my husband for not cutting the grass on his two days off. While that did irritate me, it wasn’t about the grass. It was about the fact that he is about to be gone for three days (three more days the grass won’t get cut because I can’t cut the grass with a one-year-old alone in the house or running around a yard five feet from the road). The only time we’ll see him is the two hours or so that our waking/sleeping hours overlap.

I try really hard to be supportive of my husband’s job as a cop, but that involves a lot of pretending, and it eventually bubbles over. It’s so hard to pretend that it’s all good when I have to drag a crying one-year-old away from the door when his dad leaves for work. I have to pretend that it’s okay that I literally have to lock my son outside of our bedroom because he knows his dad is in there and wants in. I have to pretend that I enjoy tip-toeing around…and trying to make my one-year-old tip-toe. Ha. I have to pretend that I just love all the extra bed space to stretch out when I sleep alone. Really I still sleep on my side of the bed and feel every chill on my side where he would be. I have to pretend that I like going to functions without you and hear people ask, “David has to work tonight again?” Thanks for the reminder that my husband has been at 1 of the last 5 family parties or get-togethers. I have to pretend that I don’t mind taking on the entire house, our child, and everything else all on my own. Or at least 90% of the time. I have to pretend that I’m okay with the fact that I’m about to have to pack our entire house and move us on my own. I have to pretend that it’s okay every time I have to throw his dinner in the trash because he can’t stop by home and get it, and instead blows money on fast food all night. I have to pretend that I’m okay not being able to go to the gym or for a run when I want to because there’s no one to be home with M.

All that pretending is dangerous in a person. Lashing out over the grass is probably the best case scenario. The truth is, I don’t think a man with a young child should be working night shift. I think he should be there with his young family as much as possible during those hectic years, years when his child can’t understand why he’s gone. When M is 9…10…11, he’ll understand, and he’ll also be able to take care of himself, and night shift would be much easier on us. But right now, it just sucks.

Maybe the worst part of it is that my husband wants to work nights and has turned down day-shift offers. I’ll just keep pretending. Sigh.

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Short Hair Steals the Top Spot

If you haven’t noticed lately (a.k.a. if you live under a rock), celebs are starting to move away from the typical long wavy hairstyle to edgy, textured, short styles. Regardless of who started it (Miley?), it’s on now!

Check out these transformations and get hair inspiration to go for it and chop it off!

                     

Jennifer Lawrence is pretty much a style icon these days. Even other celebs (see below) are stealing this style.

        

Kaley Cuoco Sweeting (who has since gone even shorter–a haircut just like Jennifer’s) no longer looks like the typical dumb blonde (but still plays one).

           pamela anderson

Even Pam Anderson caught on! She doesn’t look like a porn star anymore, and that’s always a plus.

If Beyonce does it, it must be in. She went from an asymmetrical bob to a pixie. I personally love the bob.

       

Whitney Port is known for her long, beachy waves, but I’m loving her new lob!

        

I think she could pull off a bald head, but her textured bob was the inspo for my recent chop!

       

Probably my favorite transformation. There is nothing like a full head of natural curls (been there), but this look is amazing on her! Now I just want to see her rock the natural curl afro! That would be…interesting.

             

It takes some guts to be the only Victoria Secret model without butt-length wavy hair, but Karlie Kloss pulls it off like no other. Dare I say that the hair even conveys more sexiness than her long locks? (And I think Taylor Swift may have used her as inspo for her own short cut).

So, it’s pretty clear that if you’re contemplating cutting off your hair, you should do it. It’s all the rage. Fads aside, short hair has become the new sexy, wavy, long hair look. To me, short hair says, “I am playful and like to have fun, but when it’s time, I get down to business and you better not mess with me.” Sounds like the perfect balance to me.

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My own transformation! Granted my hair was half wet in the before picture, but I’m loving my short hair! I feel much more carefree, fun, and edgy!

Marriage and Social Media

I was recently talking to one of my close friends about social media and marriage. Our husbands are complete opposites when it comes to social media. Mine is the life of the Snapchat party, and her husband has deleted all of his. She told me that since she and her husband decided together to delete their Facebook and twitter accounts, they haven’t had an argument. She claimed that she doesn’t think it’s a coincidence. I don’t think it is either. My husband has always been the life of the party, both in life and on the internet. He’s witty, comical, and everything entertaining. However, sometimes that means snapchatting an ex a funny memory or following a female cop who posts 90% soft porn on her Instagram. While I try to trust his intentions, it has been more of a problem than not. So, I’m really interested in this idea about spouses who do and don’t have social media. (I recently deleted my Facebook, and I don’t miss it a bit.) Here are some stats and quotes to contemplate.

“A recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that 81 percent of divorce attorneys have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years. More than 66 percent of those attorneys said the No. 1 site most often used as evidence is Facebook with its 400 million registered users.” (CNN)

“We should add that sharing passwords or, if appropriate, maintaining a shared account can also be a way of building a hedge around your marriage. It’s a strategy for protecting your relationship against outside threats. Whether you’ve been married for thirty days or thirty years, you’re never really immune to the threat of an extra-marital affair.” (Focus on the Family)

“Marriage counselor Terry Real said he believes that Facebook can provide a sort of fantasy for a cheating spouse. “There is nothing more seductive than the ‘one that got away’ fantasy is always better than someone who’s up to her eyeballs in bills and diapers,” he said. The Rev. Cedric Miller, a pastor in New Jersey, made headlines recently when he called Facebook a “portal to infidelity” and told his parishioners to delete their accounts after 20 couples confessed that Facebook led them astray.” (ABC)

“Although the internet and social media can foster intimacy in a marriage, it seems to do more harm than good. Of all the comments I’ve read, 90 percent of the opposite-sex relationships that were damaging to the marriage happened online.” (PBS)

“Eighty-nine percent of the people who admitted to cell phone snooping said that their motivation was to make sure that their partner was not cheating or talking to anyone else in a romantic or sexual way. And sure enough, 48 percent of people said that their snooping did turn up evidence of infidelity.” (Huffington Post)

“Researchers looked at 24,000 married people and how they used 10 different media channels, including Facebook, emails, texts and instant messages. They found that those who communicated with their partner over more channels did not experience greater levels of relationship satisfaction, and some even reported decreased levels of satisfaction. In fact, couples using more than five channels reported a 14 percent drop in marriage satisfaction, according to the Daily Mail.” (Huff Post)

 

What do you think? Is it better to just stay off of them? Or have you discovered ways to make social media work in your marriage?