6 Things I Learned as a First Year Teacher

‘First Year Teacher’ has been a strange title to hold this year. While I mostly forgot about it at work, it was at grad school and district-wide events that it really shined as an exceptionally weird thing.

At grad school, surrounded by student teachers who I overwhelmingly liked but didn’t have a ton of time to connect with, I was sometimes ignored, something applauded, and sometimes confronted with hostility. To be honest I didn’t like any of those responses and regretted every time I brought up my teaching practice as a present avenue and not a future one.

When interacting with other teachers at professional developments and state exam grading I was mostly looked at with surprise and reminiscence, as though the very thought of it being my first year brought every teacher back to theirs.

It’s strange now that after this first year being such a big deal, none of my coming years will ever mean so much in name, to me or anyone else. Only a little over two weeks out from the end of the school year and I’m still trying to gain some perspective. Mostly I just feel a little bored, a little stressed (finishing my MA), and I really kind of miss my students.

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All that said, I did manage to learn a hand full of important lessons in as a first year teacher.

1. The People Around You Matter

I got insanely lucky with colleagues. I’ve heard the horror stories of apathetic and angry teachers, veterans who don’t care and newbies who think they run the world. I got so lucky with my school family – they are kind and smart and, above all, they care about the kids. Every time I was upset, I had emotional and practical support.

I also made my own support outside of school, leaning on friends and fellow teachers when times were tough. Having a support system, particularly one made up of other people in education is key to survival.

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2. Students are like Family.

You won’t always like them, sometimes you want to throw them out a window and, but you will still love them.

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Throughout the year, when I was unsure about an action I’d taken or something I’d said, I asked myself if the root of it was love. If the answer was no, I needed to apologize.

3. Apologies Hold Huge Power

No one apologizes to kids, especially not adults. Even when they’re wrong, terribly wrong, adults rarely apologize. Early in October I snapped at a kid, it was a passing moment in a bad day, but it wasn’t fair.

I thought about it a lot that night and the next day I pulled her aside when I saw her at lunch and said “hey, I’m really sorry I snapped at you yesterday, that wasn’t fair and you didn’t deserve that.” The look on her face was comically confused and unsure and then she broke into a smile, told me it was ok, and hugged me.

When you’re wrong, apologize.

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4. Self Care

All of the self care. In the beginning of the year, I constantly felt overwhelmed by the amount I needed to prepare and learn and grow and more then once I found myself at school way too late. I brought work home and I was killing my self to finish everything.

I was blessed with an amazing co-teacher  who really kept me honest about self care and cracked down on this. He told me to go home, he helped me finish things, he simplified my to do list, he reminded me that the first year is not about being the best it’s about survival.

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Sometimes it won’t get done but you’ll have taken a long bath and gotten some rest so that you can keep loving the kids and being a good teacher.

5. Take a Day Off

This goes with number four, but needed it’s own section. You get sick and personal days.  Use them. Not excessively, but use them.

Coming to school if you’re too sick, too distracted by something outside of school, or too wrecked to do a good job will only hurt the kids. Take a day, get your head and your body right and never feel bad about it.

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6. Nothing Will Ever be Fully Prepared

No, shut up, no it won’t, just stop. Just when you think you’ve created the perfect lesson and sink hours into making it just right, the whole plan will get thrown by a student question or a broken Smart Board (in May when the tech budget is gone for the year) or a fire drill.

I stopped putting hours into lessons because it only led to disappointment. Plan, absolutely plan and be creative and create cool lessons but don’t plan so long and so hard that you’ll be heartbroken when the plan inevitably gets derailed.

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Teachers, aspiring teachers, retired teachers, parents, students, and anyone else; I’d love to know your thoughts and any big lessons you’ve learned lately in the comments!

Best of luck.

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Success! Finally Being Good at Something

I’ve been decent at a lot of things in my life. I’ve been a decent musician, a decent student, a decent retail worker, a decent volleyball player.

Ok that last one isn’t true, I was pretty awful at volleyball. Your girl does not have hand-eye coordination.

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My point is, I’ve felt like I’m ok at so many things and truly, comically awful at a few, but I have rarely really felt like I found my jam.

Until now.

Before winter break I had two teaching evaluations. One was in October and came back with pretty typical results for a first year teacher: a mix of developing and effective marks. The second evaluation was in December, right at the end of term one. I got those results recently: all effective and one highly effective mark.

It’s ok. You can say it. I know. Daaammmmnnnnnn.

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Now this one evaluation does not mean I’m perfect and I’m also not about to place my worth as a teacher on it. But it made me come back to a thought I’ve had many times in my four months teaching:

I have room to grow and learn and I always will, but damn it if I’m not a really good teacher. I’m good at this. This is my jam. I always thought people who claimed to have found their calling were liars, but then mine came out of nowhere and body checked me.

I only wish I could go back to retail me and paraeducator me and food service me and college me and tell them that they’ll get there. The suffering is real but it will pay off. You will get to your dream one day.

And it will feel so damn good to be great at something.

Best of luck.

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The Negative Nancy Myth

Sometimes a little positivity sprinkled on top of a pile of human excrement can cover up the bad for a while. And sometimes it just makes the poop harder to see and easier to step directly in.

While I am trying to be more positive in my day to day existence, I’m having a hard time believing that I can be all positivity all the time. You know that friend that gives you a big speech about how strong you are when you just need to cry on their shoulder or shoot some cans? Sure the speech is nice but it’s the crying or shooting that would have helped.

I have been called a great many things in my 28 years on this planet; words meant in jest and cruelty, from strangers and my closest friends, in a variety of places, times and languages. I’ve actually been surprised and a little proud of some of the insults hurled my way.

There is one word, however, that really gets to me: negative.

As noted above, I’m not a shimmering ray of positivity all the time; I’m definitely the cynical type, I’m sarcastic and my judgment meter leans toward pessimistic.

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For the record, these are all things I like about myself. I don’t find them to be flaws. I have the ability to turn BS situations into humor. I care really deeply about the things happening around me. I also have a temper and have been known to spiral, but these are not things that I would alter my personality to change.

Last weekend, I saw an acquaintance who mentioned that he loves my Facebook posts because “they’re so negative.” He explained that while everyone else is posting photos of beautiful scenery and candids with friends at bars, my posts were so honest.

He meant it as a compliment, I know he did, but it stuck with me. When I arrived home I couldn’t get it out of my head, so like any mature adult, I sent a series of angry and confused snaps to my lovely friend Francis.*

Like a boss, Francis understood my frustration and broke it down. She explained something that I couldn’t agree with more: negative, in our society is never a word used kindly or respectfully. The only kindness that word serves is that it helps people not say “that person’s a downer/dick/pain in the ass.” It’s a good way to insult someone without insulting them.

When you call someone negative, no matter what your intentions are, you are not complimenting them. Yeah, I say what’s on my mind, but calling me negative because of the way I choose to see and communicate my world isn’t fair, it’s not something I can argue against because it’s based on your small view of me.

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We live in an inspirational quote over nature background kind of world and that’s ok with me, I actually like positivity around me, it inspires. But in a world where positivity rules and negative people are cast as these sad little, angry badgers living in a cave of resentment, how could it be fair to call me negative?

Spoiler alert: it’s not.

I suppose the moral is this: words hurt. That’s stick and stones thing is bullshit. If you must be unkind at least do so openly, don’t mask it in some false compliment. Think about the words you choose. And for Pete’s sake, stop calling people negative.

That was too many morals, but you understand.

Best of luck.

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*Remember Francis, my friend from that terrible job I was fired from? Remember that job? Oh man, that place sucked. Good news though, they just went out of business. So.

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Whole30 Confession #1: I’m a Binge Eater

I think the first time I really noticed my binging habits was in college. I lived in the dorms but had the cheapest meal plan which meant I still had to prepare about half of my meals. So I bought groceries, only as much as I could carry, and I lugged them home on the bus.

There was always this feeling when I got home, this itching to consume everything. My home was filled with food, fully equipped for another week. But I wanted all of it. There were so many afternoons of stomach pain from simply eating too much at once.

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Binging is like being this other person, watching yourself consume and consume. It’s not even really tasting. It’s wanting another bite even when you haven’t finished the one in your mouth. It’s not satisfaction, it is only temporary euphoria followed by guilt.

This is not some small annoying habit to break, I know that. It’s a compulsion and it’s scary. The idea of eating until your sick, well it sickens me.

My Whole30 is partially about this. Particularly with sugar, but also in general. I want to remember my identity outside of food, I want to stop thinking so much about what I ‘get to’ eat next. Whole

Best of luck.

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5 Things I’ve Learned in My First Month Teaching

I’ve officially been teaching now for over a month (6 weeks and 1 day, but who’s counting) and I learn something new everyday. I’ve had a bit of time to marinade on the big things, so I thought I’d share the top 5things I’ve learned on this magical adventure in exhaustion and joy.

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Being Authentically You Is Everything

I’m not the strict disciplinarian type, and I’m certainly not a cool kid. Struggling between getting control of my rowdiest class and wanting them to not hate me, I think I’ve finally found my own identity.

This is such a necessary thing, to be you, just you as a teacher. I can’t be really strict because it’s not who I am, I also can’t pretend to like everything my students like because that’s not who I am. At the end of the day, they seem to be a lot more open to me when I’m being who I am, not who I feel like I should pretend to be.

Lesson Planning is the Worst

About six months ago, when I was applying for jobs and doing demo lessons, I spent a solid two hours on a lesson plan and thought to myself “I’m going to have to get better at this.”

I’m starting from scratch on three different classes and trying to differentiate for four classes of kiddos. Turns out that means a lot of lesson planning. And no I’m not quick or efficient yet. But amen for google slides.

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A Good Department Team Can Save You

The history department at my school is small but fierce. We meet twice a week to discuss and plan and it’s cut out a lot of unnecessary double-planning because we’re able to share resources and ideas with each other.

In teaching, sharing is caring, and stealing is quite frankly the only way you’ll ever get it all done. Everyone needs another lesson idea and someone else out there has it to give to them.

Grad School No Longer Applies

I’ve learned some valuable things in my almost year at Columbia so far. The chief of these things however has not been curriculum mapping or school structures, it has been that teacher education programs are too far away from reality. I knew this but until I started teaching and learning at the same time, I didn’t realize how impressive the distance.

Doing a teacher preparation program while full time teaching is like working at Starbucks while talking classes about the chemical make up of each variety of coffee. Sure it’s interesting and might be useful one day, but no one taught me how to make a latte, so I’ll just be over here burning the hell out of my hands while I try to teach myself.

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When Things Go Sideways, There’s Still Love

I’m amazed at how deeply I already care about my students. They are some of the funniest, kindest, strongest people I know. Do they drive me bonkers sometimes? Of course. But I want everything for them.

A couple of weeks ago there was a physical fight in my room. It escalated quickly but eventually it was contained. Truth be told, I’d been waiting for some big thing like this to happen. My mistake was thinking that I would be irritated or annoyed at the students involved. In reality I stayed up worrying about them: what would their punishment be? Were they ok? Had anyone stopped and talked them through their thoughts and feelings?

The students are fine now and things will be getting back to normal soon, but it struck me that even in the worst scenarios, there’s always love.

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So, that’s basically how you teach. As you can tell, I’m totally an expert now. Or something…Either way, I’d love to hear/read your thoughts, particularly from any current, previous, or future teachers.

Best of luck.

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How To: Batch Cooking

I’m back!*

So a couple of days ago, a friend asked me for advice about batch cooking/meal planning. I’ve been doing it consistently for a while, mostly because it makes for fast lunches when I wake up late and quick dinners when I come home tired, but also because it’s hot as balls in NYC this summer and turning on the stove once a week keeps my teeny apartment stay much cooler.

Seeing as school is starting soon, fall is coming for us, and change is around the corner, it seems a good time to share some of my hard-earned knowledge.

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Am I a professional cook? Absolutely not. Am I an expert of kitchen tools and food quality? Not even a little bit. What I am is a perfectly average cook with an interest in saving time and a propensity to walk away from a cooking session with at least two bandaids. I do not own a zester of any kind and for the last four years I’ve either cooked in the corner of a tiny studio apartment or shared a partially outdoor and entirely oven-less kitchen with a Peruvian family.

So why am I, the oft injured non-expert, writing about batch cooking? Because I can’t be the only one with a lot of interest and almost no skill. If we all read advice from only the experts, we’d start to get worried about our abilities. This one’s for you, average cook with very little time, I raise my box of bandaids to you!

Lessons I Learned While Batch Cooking:

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Have a Plan

Sure this seems obvious, but until you’re splashing boiling water down your pant leg because you have thirty seconds to strain it and oh sh** you should have but the meat in before the greens and is that FIRE, THAT’S FIRE…you don’t understand just how little you can wing it.

This is particularly important in the beginning: planning not just what you want to cook but the order in which you will cook it and a rough timeline is key.

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Mix Up Staples and New Recipes

This took me a while, but especially starting out, you don’t want to have to cook some new and impressive recipe for every meal. That’s 21 new recipes.

I don’t know about you but around 20% of the new recipes I try are sub-par. 20% of 21 is more than four meals. Four meals that you have to box up and eat later, knowing they aren’t going to be very delicious.

Avoid this by choosing 1-2 new recipes for the week and sticking to what you know for the rest. It’s also important to mix it up, cooking some full meals (ex: Beef Curry on Rice, Cracklin’ Chicken) and some things that can be mixed with other things (ex: boiled carrots, vegetable mix**).

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Ask For Help/Take a Damn Break

Cooking food for the entire week is not a simple task. While I’ve gotten better at it, almost every week I end up either hurting myself or getting tired doing it. Boyfriend has gotten very good at stepping in about five minutes before I hit this wall to help me finish up and clean the kitchen.

If you don’t have someone right there to help you, consider planning in a place to take a break and sit down with a glass of wine for twenty minutes. This does not make you weak, it makes you smart and less likely to injure yourself.

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Choose smarts, not the emergency room.

 

I hope these tips help in your future kitchen adventures and may the odds be ever in your flavor (Yeah).

Best of luck!

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*At this point, I’d like to say that I’m going to pick up the blog, cradle it in my arms, and rekindle my loving relationship with it, I would really like to say that. But I don’t want to lie to you. I’m starting the year of my life where grad school and full time work as an NYC public school teacher intersect and I’m still trying to figure out how to fit eating and sleeping in. But right now, I have a vacation and I’m going to blog, because even in the darkest times, something something, idk I’ll write when I can. But I do love you, you perfect cupcakes and I appreciate you reading the blog at all.

** Pre-cooked vegetables make for really fast omelets in the morning.

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