I never thought about retiring from teaching because in my mind I have always been that young woman with so many passions to share about life and learning. Yet, this is it. This is my last year as a bonafide, experienced educator in the California public school system. After 36 wonderful years in the classroom, I am still young and eager to achieve new goals. However, I will spend the rest of my life using what I’ve learned as a teacher because the most valuable lessons I’ve gained in my life have come from the give and take of learning.
It’s okay to be frustrated with a failed lesson if you are honest. The best lessons come out of a lesson that failed. It’s a time to show your students that you’re not perfect, but that you are willing to be flexible and open to their ideas. Children respect a teacher who is real, and they love having input with their own education.
When you get angry with a child, and you will at least once, give them the other side of that anger. I have taught Kindergarten through 12th grade in all kinds of learning environments. There is always a challenging child or two in every school year. And, there is always a child you never think you will reach. If you do lose your composure, balance it with love and truth. Hug that child after you’ve taken a deep breath and tell him or her that you want them to succeed so badly, you would do anything to make that happen. Children forgive easily if they know you are truly fighting for them.
Don’t grade every scrap of paper turned in. I used to grade everything until I became buried in paperwork. I found a system that allowed me to grade fairly and keep my creative juices flowing. Have the students switch and grade their own practice papers. Give homework a pass/fail (unless you are a high school teacher), but use it as a teaching tool. I am able to get an accurate cross-section of grades on tests and reports, alone, without all the fluff.
Keep parents informed. Your best allies in education are the parents. Call, email, text, fax, and send home reports often. Give good progress reports more than bad ones. But always document every piece of communication so that stories match. You never know when you will need back up in case of any misunderstandings; and believe me, you will encounter a few.
Don’t scratch with the chickens, fly on your own eagle wings. Teachers are a tough group. They are highly competitive among the ranks. You will inevitably come upon negative teachers who are threatened by the newbie who wants to change the world. No matter what, stay positive and keep smiling. Here’s the mantra that kept me sane throughout my career: What others think of me is none of my business.