Congrats to all Education Graduates!!!!! And a few words of advice…

I recently attended the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education 2015 Convocation in support of my talented cousin (who’s actually more like my little sister), Alyssa (Congrats, again, Lyssy!).

My cousin, Alyssa, center at her RU Master of Education Graduation. (That's my mom on the left and me, on the right)
My cousin, Alyssa (center) just before her Rutgers University Graduate School of Education Convocation. (That’s my mom, on the left and me, on the right).

I sat there watching my cousin amongst the other graduates–her classmates, our future colleagues–a sea of mortar-board caps decorated with rulers, apples, primary colors, and the new title they would proudly answer to during the next stage of their lives, “Miss and/or Mr.  So-and-So”.  Their eagerness to enter the world of education apparent in their shining faces.  The promise of what this new cohort of educators stands for moving me to get a bit teary-eyed.  How exciting it is to have your whole career ahead of you! Something that you’ve worked toward for years.

As each graduate marched across the stage and accepted their diploma, I began to create a list in my mind of what I would tell each and every one of them.  They’ve been schooled in the pedagogy, theory, and practice of the education world, but what about things that cannot be taught in a class?  The small, seemingly insignificant things that one can only glean from experience.  The silly things that helped me survive my early years of teaching….

And so, this post was born.

My Unsolicited Advice for all New Education Graduates

Buy a notebook.

Keep track of PLC minutes, staff meeting information, professional development workshop notes, and anything else important.  Date everything!  Keep a record of decisions made and tasks assigned.  You can use your notebook to plan classroom groups, your teaching block, or content pacing.  It’s your thinking on paper and everything is in one place.  You will find that you (and your colleagues for that matter) will constantly refer back to and review this invaluable tool.

Some of my past notebooks, ranging from my first year in the classroom to last year.
Some of my past notebooks, ranging from my first year in the classroom to last year. Notice the telltale signs of how well-used they are: coffee stains, tabs, highlighting, additions and revisions.
Eat lunch in the faculty room.

Some teachers would advise against this, saying that the lunch room gets too gossipy or negative, and at times that may be true.  However, in some cases, you can actually learn A LOT in the faculty room – and that learning is two-fold:

  1. Put a bunch of females into a room and inevitable they will start talking about life, love, and their kids (Males within the education world, I understand this just might be your worst nightmare… but bear with me). As a new teacher, I learned a lot from them.  Whether it be marital advice, when to retire, how to set up a 403(b), the ups and downs of daycare, how to potty train, how to roast a chicken, the list goes on!  It seems like you’ll never need any of it, but I can promise you that time ticks on and you, too, one day will be ready to settle down and start a household–family and all. At least now you’ll have all that knowledge from your colleagues to stand on!
  2. Yes, lunch is a time to take a moment for yourself and decompress from the morning and recharge for the afternoon, and it’s good to take the time to do that.  However, teachers rarely ever stop thinking about their work. And this is where being in the faculty room at lunch time comes in handy. It’s a built-in meeting!  You can run lesson plan ideas or assessments past colleagues and get their feedback.  A teacher may come in to copy something that you realize you could use in your classroom. Ask for a copy!  And listen!  Listening in on other educators in your content area is like free PD.  Pay attention to what they are doing in their rooms, their pacing, their techniques and bring that back into your own room.  By being present and “leaning in” to the conversation as Sheryl Sandberg would encourage,  you can learn SO much.
Find a friend.

I’m not just talking about any old friend.  I’m talking about a trusted and respected colleague, who will challenge you and help you grow as an educator.  This should be someone who has educational goals and beliefs similar to your own.  Someone who you can easily work with and who’s feedback you value.  Mine happened to be my mentor.  Through our relationship, I became a much stronger teacher.  As I grew more confident in the classroom and in my practice, we began to function more as equals. We bounced ideas off each other, shared materials and resources, debated new classroom practices, and supported each other.  You will need this type of person because teaching is not always easy.  It’s hard work! And having someone to support you through challenges, offer advice, and keep you smiling is a necessary part of the job.

Say “Yes.”

As a new teacher, you have to build your reputation among colleagues and parents in your school.  One great way to do this is by volunteering for committees and extra duties.  Be a face that parents see at events outside of school.  Offer to become a member of school committees like the social club or an advisory committee.  Build your reputation as a team player and someone who cares about the positive culture and moral of your school.  A word of caution, however-do not take on so much that you become overwhelmed.  Your commitment, first and foremost, is to the education of your students.  Try not to lose sight of that.

Learn the name of every custodian and secretary.

These are the people who keep the school up and running.  They do a lot of work and are often not recognized for all they do.  Make friends, be kind, say “Good morning”, and thank them for all they do.  Then, hopefully, whenever you need a favor (and I can guarantee that at some point you will), they will be more likely to help you out.

Seasoned Educators, what else would you add to this “unsolicited” advice for our future colleagues??

Let’s keep the conversation going-

Lindsay

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