Sunday, July 6, 2014

Think, Wonder, and Teach - Guest Blog Post

I recently had the honor of being asked by Misty, of over at Think, Wonder, & Teach to write a letter for her series "Time to Teach."

Think, Wonder, & Teach

So, I did a little reminiscing about my first 10 years (yes, I've made it a whole decade!) of teaching to impart some of the knowledge I have learned along the way for other new teachers to read.  It is a great series of letters and a great blog that I highly suggest you try out.

Here is my letter:

Dear Misty,
This year I presided over my tenth year of teaching.  It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (and maybe a little wine) to get me through.  So, it seems like a good idea to reflect over this last decade by passing on some things I have learned that may be useful to you.  In early June, I looked over a sea of 124 sixth graders who would soon be moving onto middle school.  I wondered how time had flown so fast.  How could it be ten years since the day I first stepped into my own classroom?
I have a rotten memory.  Sometimes I can’t remember which kid just asked to go to the bathroom, but I do remember my first day of teaching in my own classroom.  I had been hired to teach 3rd grade at a school with a great reputation and a great staff.  The kids came into the classroom that morning just as excited and curious as I was.  And behind them, came their parents.
 All of them.
 They stood in the back of my classroom with their arms crossed, like bouncers at a club, wondering if this young new teacher knew what she was doing.  Two mothers even had the nerve to come and tell me that it must’ve been a mistake that their children had been placed in my class.  They told me that they were on their way to the principal and their kids would likely be moving to a different teacher within the next hour.  Not a confidence booster.  But, as they say, I put on my big girl panties, smiled, and started my class.  Regardless of how I felt on the inside, they were NOT going to see me sweat.
Which leads me into my first piece of advice for all new teachers.
Sometimes, you have to just follow the old rule of “fake it ’til you make it.” No matter how much time you have spent student teaching, grading papers, or practicing your engagement strategies, there is nothing like running your own classroom.  No teacher should ever tell you that they know what they are doing 100% of the time; otherwise, they are doing it wrong.  We all have days when we plaster on a big fake smile and try not to have a nervous breakdown.  Just like the students in front of you, you are learning every second and every minute of every day.  Some of those moments of learning will be petrifying, but just smile and know that it will pass and when you come out the other side, you will be a better teacher.
Don’t forget to be adventurous. Our society worries too much about being successful all the time.  Kids are creatures of habit and sometimes fear change and are afraid to fail.  I have students who have never eaten a salad, never slept away from their parents, or have never received a grade lower than an A.  We can teach them to take a chance.  They will watch you.  Will they see someone safe, who never tries anything new?  Or will they see the teacher who has fun, is a leader, and is willing to look silly or even lose at tether ball? Lead them on adventures and they will follow.
A good teacher must be dynamic.  As kids change, we change.  We must constantly adapt and try new things to make learning better and to engage students in their learning.  Doug Robertson, known to many as “The Weird Teacher” says it well when he writes, ”Teaching is experimental theater. I don’t know if a lot of the things I try in front of my class are going to land. Some of them will fail. Some will fail hard. But that is always better than teaching the same thing in the same way for years on end.”
There will be days when you will bomb, but there will be days when the angels sing and fireworks explode.  All because you tried something new.  Allow yourself to crash and burn once in awhile.  And when it’s over, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on.
My last rule is simple.  Do it your own way.  Tell stories about life and what you know and the kids will thank you for it.  As a student teacher and new teacher, I was most often schooled in the theory that teachers were simply presenters of pre-made information handed to us in the teaching manual of everyone’s favorite textbooks.  The day I put that manual down and started doing it my own way was the day I started seeing results.  They connected with me, they remembered my funny anecdotes, and they wanted to come to my class to learn.  Give them something else to remember besides what was in the textbook.
You will touch hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives, during your career.  Don’t just teach them.  Inspire them and love them.  Teach them how to win, lose, and laugh at themselves when things just don’t go their way.  They will remember you.  And if you do it right, they will inspire you and teach you more about yourself than you ever knew existed.
Good luck and enjoy,


  1. How exciting to discover another upper grade blogger! (And how sweet that you wrote a letter to Misty).
    I just spent some time "wandering around" your blog... Great stuff!
    I'm looking forward to visiting again soon.

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

    1. Thanks Kim! I read your blog whenever I can! Great stuff.