As I turn the page on 2017, and look ahead to 2018, I’m filled with the familiar sense of hope and opportunity. This will be the year I get it right. I will finally perfect that difficult lesson on theme; my students will finally understand how to write an introductory paragraph that includes a hook, focus statement, and thesis with appropriate transitions. My students will understand that being kind is every bit as important as being smart. I will be extra patient with that difficult child, and I will limit my “venting time” in the teachers’ workroom. I think I can…I think I can…Can you relate?
Teachers are naturally optimistic. How else could we bring ourselves to walk through the doors of a classroom with the expectation that each child entrusted to us will transform into a better version of himself after 180 days spent in our care? I believe there’s a deep-seeded desire in the heart of nearly every teacher to see our efforts played out in the changed lives of our students.
In this season of New Year’s resolutions, do-overs, mulligans, blank canvases, and clean slates, I’d like to share three practical practices of prudent teachers.
Maintain a healthy sense of humor. First and foremost, to survive the wild and wooly world of education with your sanity intact, teachers must have a healthy sense of humor. So TNReady wasn’t actually ready, and No Child Left Behind didn’t quite work out according to plan? Classroom life is unpredictable. Principal Gerry Brooks has perfected the art of laughing at the things outside our control without allowing the setbacks to distract us from the important job of educating and loving our students. While the most effective teachers will tell you it’s important to have a plan, the best stories come from things that didn’t go according to plan. Teachers with staying power and happy students have learned to laugh not at their students, but with them. I had a third grader ask me if I would spell a word for her. You can imagine my surprise when she asked me to spell “penis.” When I asked her how she was using that word in her poem, she sweetly replied, “I already know how to spell ‘hap’!” As it turned out, she was trying to spell the word -“happiness”- and needed a little help with the “p-i-n-e-s-s” part!
Stay focused on the big picture. Many teachers allow temporary setbacks to throw them off course. So I didn’t finish reading that novel with my class before the break? I secretly threw away the 5 stacks of student homework because, after taking them home with me for three solid weeks, I didn’t get them graded in time for relevant feedback? It’s not worth losing sleep over. Being present in the moments that matter has greater impact than any graded paper.
Mistakes are often the best teacher. Just before inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” It’s essential to reframe that way we look at challenges. Challenges are opportunities to learn. When we know better, we do better.
You’d think after 25 years in the classroom, I’d have it down, and yet I repeatedly tell myself, “Next year, I’ll…” According to one of my personal heroes, John Wooden, “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Do your best, but don’t hold yourself to an unrealistic standard of perfection. Greet your students at the door with a smile; ask about their ballgames; laugh together…these moments are much more valuable and have greater impact in the long run. Stop beating yourself up over the details. Prioritize your students over your paperwork. Do the best you can, but understand no one can do it all – even those who seem like they can.
Forgive. It’s important to remember that the first person I should forgive every day is myself. Once you deem yourself worthy of forgiveness, it’s easier to forgive others. None of us is perfect, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Andy Andrews describes an unwillingness to forgive as a “psychological rock inside my shoe.” Every step through life brings discomfort and pain. Teachers are too busy, and our work is too important to be hindered by pain. Understand that students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and those at the State Department are fallible people doing the best they can in an effort to do right by the students entrusted to them. When we hold others to an impossible standard of perfection, we’re engaging in an exercise of futility. We need to let that stuff go…forgive!
As a teacher, you shape the future; you build dreams; you hold the hearts of children in your hand; you are powerful, but you aren’t perfect. Allow yourself the freedom to laugh at the unexpected, focus on the areas of greatest impact, and give yourself a break every now and then.
So, as I head into the promise of 2018, I hereby resolve to have fun, focus, and forgive. Won’t you join me?
Amy serves on Knox County’s PD Redesign Team and the Superintendent’s Transition Team. She has been a Tennessee SCORE fellow and recipient of the 2016 PTSA Tennessee Teacher of the Year. As a 23-year “veteran” classroom teacher, Amy has taught at the preschool, elementary and middle school levels and is currently teaching 7th grade English-Language Arts in Knoxville, Tennessee. She’s a graduate of Carson Newman University. She’s also the founder of Reach Them to Teach Them, an organization committed to appreciating, inspiring and challenging teachers to maximize their influence in student lives. Amy has a passion for using her time and talent to leave the world better than she found it! She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.