Thursday, March 5, 2015

Six Months. Six Lessons.

I have successfully survived six months in the real world with a real job. It's only been six months? How can that be right? I say that, but at the same time, I feel as though time is absolutely flying. Spring break is just one week away - PTL - and after that, we don't have too long until S U M M E R vacation! But because I've hit that six-month mark, I thought I would take a moment to share what I have learned. And I'm certainly not the wisest, and  I don't have all the answers. But I would love to share what I do know, because these six months have been such a learning experience for me.

My second home
1. You will never know everything. And because of that, it's okay to ask for help.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Heck, I have no shame in stopping to ask for directions. That's not so much necessary anymore with the high-tech iPhone GPS, but I'll be the first to admit that there is so much that I don't know about teaching and coaching. And at first I saw asking for help as a sign of inferiority, but I quickly figured out that it is one of the best learning tools I've got. When I run out of drills at practice? Our varsity coach has binders full of them. When I don't know how to make a lesson interesting, or I'm struggling to organize a lesson? I can guarantee you that at least one of my team members has something up her sleeve. That's how ExposiTORY came about, and it warms my heart when I see my students drawing this stick figure before they begin writing. What's my point in writing all of this? That saying that goes, "You learn something new every day." Absolutely and 100% true.

I learned just how difficult it is to write a formulaic expository essay in only 26 lines
2. Make friends with your co-workers.
At a school like Bellaire, it's near impossible to know every other teacher in the school. And I wish it was possible, but it's just not. That being said, some of my fellow Bellaire teachers are some of the greatest people I have had the pleasure of knowing. I have loved getting to share the victories and struggles of being a first-year teacher with Ms. Paz. I have loved laughing with my English I team at some of the hilarious things our students say, write, and do. Lately, I have gotten to know one of the English III teachers, who has been at Bellaire for 25 years and is 30 years my elder, because we both have 6th period off and we both hang out in the English department lounge. I look forward to our daily conversations. And I've even gotten to know some of the teachers in other departments. History, especially. And who can forget the teacher who took the time to talk to me when I was crying (yes, crying) in the middle of the hallway after learning my classroom had been taken away? Other teachers, coaches, and members of the staff take time to ask me how my day is going, how I'm doing, how I'm liking Bellaire, and how I'm enjoying teaching. And they want to hear my honest answer. And though I'm one of the youngest teachers in the school, I've met some truly dynamite people who help me to survive each day.

3. Bad days will happen.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Bad days will absolutely happen. In fact, I went off on my students just today telling them they're all going to fail the STAAR because they can't get their ish together. Okay, I didn't use those exact words, but sometimes their constant chatter, sassiness, and immaturity just gets to me. Not that all of them are this way. And I understand that they're freshmen. But just because one small part of a day isn't the best, or it sometimes seems as though you're giving so much and not getting anything in return, it doesn't mean that you're not exactly where you're supposed to be. 

Yeah, this really happened
4. It's okay to set aside the work for a night. It will still be there in the morning.
Lately I've found myself feeling guilty for every minute I spend not working. If I'm sitting there talking to my mom or watching an episode of Full House without my laptop in front of me, I feel as though I'm wasting time. And that's not a healthy way to feel. Sometimes I panic when making plans with my friends, because it's precious time wasted. And I said this here, but an evening spent talking and laughing with friends, or a morning spent catching up over brunch, or an afternoon spent walking at the park, is just as important as grading those expository essays. Or making a PowerPoint. I am someone who loves living life ahead - I've always been that way - but I've found that it's best to set aside the work, live in the moment, and take time for the things that bring you life and bring you joy. For me, that's baking and exercise and blogging and reading and spending time with my friends and family. Because I guarantee that stack of short answer responses will still be there in the morning.

5. Technology is a curse, not a blessing.
Bold statement, I know. And I don't say this just because my students are attached to their phones, computers, and tablets. Seriously. I've had several moments where I've laid into my kids about how they are addicted to their cell phones. And I'm one to talk, because I hardly leave the house without it. That being said, though, I had a go-phone my senior year of high school, and the only thing I was checking was Parent Portal. Yeah, I was a huge nerd. But these kids are losing the ability to interact with their fellow students. One of the best days was when my students played hangman in the last few minutes of class, and they put away the phones and got so into the game. I also say this because, call me crazy, but I prefer a white board and Expo marker to all of this fancy technology. SmartBoards? No, thanks. It's great when it works, but when it goes out on you, it's often more trouble than it's worth. And it can leave you scrambling. But document cameras are pretty cool. 

6. Sleep is important.
Yeah, this one deserves to be number one. I had been warned, but teaching makes you drop-dead tired. I know I'm tired when I can sleep until 9:30am on the weekends. Because that just doesn't happen. And though I'm partial to teaching, I know that just about any job will make you drop-dead tired. Adjusting to a reasonable real-world schedule is hard. Because though I wasn't one to stay up super late, and I certainly never pulled an all-nighter, that's just not an option when you have work the next day. There have been a couple of occasions when I've had to say no to hanging out with my friends because staying up past 11:00pm would set me back for days. And going back to the work thing. There have been nights when I told myself I would stay up late and get it all done, only to be playing catch-up for the next couple of nights. And once I start neglecting sleep in favor of crossing things off, my health starts to suffer, and there's really just no time to be sick.

And one more for good measure. Find a job that makes you smile more than it makes you frown. It's gotten real in Ms. Tomlinson's English and Reading classes these past couple of weeks, because you guys maybe know better than my kids do that the STAAR test is just 11 school days away. Holy yikes. And I've made it clear that I won't tolerate any messing around. That being said, we have been reading a piece of drama these past couple of class days. Not only because we anticipate a piece of drama showing up on the STAAR, but also because it relates to the novel we have slowly been reading - Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying. The death sentence. Uplifting, right? But my kids have been so into it. They have really gotten into the parts, and some of my most reluctant students have asked if they could have a role in the play. They exaggerate their lines and pick up accents and make sound effects and today they asked me if we were going to finish reading the play. And I have found myself laughing and laughing at them, anticipating the start of Romeo and Juliet. Yes, I have hard days. Yes, my students exasperate me to no end sometimes (because why would you come to school without a pencil?). Yes, sometimes I ask myself what in the world I was thinking becoming a teacher. But my students bring a smile to my face each and every day and I'm so grateful for the job that I have. From teaching Reading to coaching volleyball, I'm convinced that I've got the best gig around.

And though I've learned a lot in just six short months, I know I've got miles to go. And I'll always have miles to go. Keeping up with my students is the equivalent of sprinting a marathon. So, whether you've been out in the real world for years, you're like me and you're just getting your toes wet, or you're about to graduate from college, just remember that there's always something to be learned. And that's the beauty of it.

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