April 10, 2022: New Teacher Advice
Last week I had the honor of speaking at the Honor Society Induction for Education majors, at the University where I teach. It was a joy and humbling to be surrounded by these exceptional, future teachers.
Teaching has always been a fulfilling and noble profession.
It does not take too much digging though, to find all of the challenges and negatives that go along with a career as an educator. Teachers have always been asked to accomplish herculean tasks with little or no support and resources. And we do. Every single day.
So as I congratulated them on their accomplishments and welcomed them into the profession, I also left them with three pieces of advice…
First, find your Marigolds! Any gardener will tell you that planting marigolds next to other plants, helps the other plants grow and thrive. Marigolds somehow repel pests and nurture the other plants. Walnut trees though, give off toxic vapors that can destroy other plants. When you begin teaching, there will be both marigold teachers and walnut tree teachers at your school. Find those marigolds! For they will help you grow into the educator you want to be. They will be easy to spot. They are the teachers who make you feel good just being around them. They are encouraging and positive. The walnut tree teachers will also be easy to spot, for they are always complaining about something. Usually the kids. Makes you wonder why they even wanted to go into teaching. Surround yourself with marigolds and you too will thrive!
Second, never lose sight of the fact that it is ALL ABOUT THE KIDS! Yes, we also love certain content areas or subjects, but I would venture to say that for most who go into teaching, the thrill is seeing the kids’ eyes light up when they get it. Helping that reluctant reader finally find a book that he or she can’t put down; supporting that struggling student with strategies that let them taste success; nurturing that artistic or science talent that no one else sees; knowing that you have helped to sow seeds of curiosity and resilience in students that will serve them well for a lifetime. The reality of life for teachers is that we live in a world of mandates that come from outside the classroom. District, state, and national policy dictate much of what we do. Teachers become very skilled at that delicate balancing act of dealing with what is required, while doing what is best for kids (which are often not only not the same thing, but are diametrically opposed). So when choices must be made, always opt for doing what is best for kids first!
Third, find and celebrate the TINY MIRACLES that will happen in your classroom every day. Yes, as teachers, we dream about those huge miracles. The struggling student who can’t read, but through our diligent and selfless instruction, support, and coaching, has a breakthrough. The student with behavior issues who, because we have nurtured a supportive and accepting relationship with them, has a seismic shift in their perspective. Those big miracles happen, but they are few and far between. But I guarantee, there will be miracles and victories every day in your classroom, if you look for them. They may be miniscule to others, but they are monumental to that student. Notice them, savor them, acknowledge them, and celebrate them. The student who has not turned in homework for a week, yet today does. The lonely student who spends recess with another child instead of alone. The student who never volunteers in class, today raised their hand. When you happen to look up and see that every student in your class is doing what they are supposed to be doing! When you train yourself to find these miraculous moments in your day, your classroom becomes a magical and wondrous place for not only you, but your students as well.
So to all those who are getting ready to graduate and take your place in this wonderful, and terrifying, profession, welcome. You got this!