This morning’s #sunchat focused on the topic: If you could go back in time knowing what you know now, what advise would you give to your new teacher self? I loved this topic both for the opportunity to reflect and the opportunity to share my hard-earned wisdom with others. Most of the participants were actually educators with more years of service than me, so the chat may ultimately have been more therapeutic than instructive.
I thought I’d archive my tweets here and process what I said a bit more.
“Advice to younger teacher self: Organize all documents you make more systematically. You won’t have to recreate them every year.”
- Over the years I’ve been terribly lazy about organizing Word documents in folders and sticking to a clear document-naming system. I can usually find an old handout, quiz, or test pretty quickly with a little searching, but it would be much better if I showed an ounce of discipline in this area. Also, I’m not consistent about moving old content I’ve created to new platforms. I’ve lost things when I’ve bought new computers or started using a new cloud service, etc. I can see a very useful summer project developing here.
“More advice to younger teacher self: Work at boarding school and live in free housing. Double retirement savings.”
- This advice is mostly lost on the audience of a typical Twitter edchat since they are mostly public school teachers who would never dream of going to work at an independent school, never mind a boarding school. I’ve been working at boarding schools my entire career, but I foolishly have done the housing thing backwards. I lived off-campus and paid rent for the first seven years of my career, and have been living in the dorm for the last eight. I would tell any 22-year-old considering a career in teaching to go to work for a boarding school and live rent-free for the first ten years of their career. You can double your retirement savings and put away money to eventually buy a house, too. Living in-dorm keeps you flexible and mobile, too, in case an opportunity comes up somewhere else. Young teachers have so much to offer to the students in the dorms, as well. Those kids need positive role models who are in their 20s.
“More advice to younger teacher self: Your boisterous classroom is okay. Students’ engagement is better than fear of punishment.”
- I spent a lot of my first couple of years as a teacher feeling inadequate because my room was noisy. I was totally wrong about that. It didn’t help that the walls between classrooms in my old job were paper thin! Students who are engaged and working with enthusiasm make noise. They don’t just sit in quiet rows, silently taking notes. The teaching style that I knew I wanted for myself was the right one, and with experience on my side, I don’t worry about this issue any more. By the way, I’ve learned (from reading Approaches to Teaching by Fenstermacher and Soltis) that there are highly effective teachers out there whose students do sit in quiet rows, and I shouldn’t judge them. I have my style, they have theirs. I shouldn’t assume that my style is the only way.
“More advice to younger teacher self: Be direct and honest with parents. They’ve known their child has weakness X since kindergarten.”
- And a Twitter interlocutor, @Kathgate, replied to this tweet to tell me that, as a kindergarten teacher, she knows that parents have known about their child’s weaknesses long before kindergarten! I was using “kindergarten” as a metonym, but her point is well taken. I’m usually worried about how parents will take the news when I have to tell them that either a) Their child speaks out of turn too often in class, or b) Their child isn’t getting his/her homework done. (Those two items are almost always the bad news I have to communicate). Parents don’t bat an eye at receiving such news. By the time their son or daughter enters my ninth or tenth grade English class, they’ve been hearing this from teachers for over a decade. They usually chuckle and say, “Yup. That’s Mikey for you.”
“More advice to younger teacher self: Don’t measure your success compared to college classmates. Teaching is a noble profession.”
- That was my last tweet for the chat, and I was intentionally trying to be a little uplifting and fishing for retweets. (I’m not perfectly selfless, I confess.) But I also stand by the point I was trying to make. My 25-year-old self in his first year of teaching was still trying to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up. I had friends from my elite high school and my elite college who were working on Wall St., in med school, close to finishing law school, etc. And so what? There may be other professions that are as satisfying as being an educator, but I can’t think of too many. As teachers, our work is always challenging, always meaningful, and always relevant. If we do our jobs right, we make the world a better place. Long after we are gone, the ripples of the pebbles we throw into the metaphoric pond continue to spread outward. If first-year teachers consider quitting the profession because they are miserable, exhausted, and struggling, I completely understand. I would exhort them to give it another year; it gets easier. But if a first-year teacher is considering quitting the profession because they are jealous of their friends who have more glamorous or high-paying jobs, I would encourage them to spend some time reflecting on what is truly important. That isn’t a bad suggestion for long-tenured educators, too.