Jennifer? She wrote
for Reality 101
in 2009–10. She's in her second year of teaching kindergartners with various disabilities in Pasadena, Calif. Reality 101 is circling back with her for a
Reality Check to get her perspective and sage advice for new teachers.
One of the best things about
special education is that when someone asks you to write about things that have
changed in your teaching career, you can honestly say things are just as
exciting, interesting, new, challenging, and, occasionally, as daunting as
ever. While I feel stronger as a professional, that I have a greater sense of
“ownership” in my classroom, and am more experienced when making decisions for
my students, I am still always learning, always questioning, and always
surprised by what each day brings.
I suppose one of the greatest
milestones since I was a Reality 101 blogger is that I have since had the
opportunity to work as a master teacher for an intern going through the exact
same teacher education program I went through. I've heard that the best way to
truly learn something is to try to teach it to someone else. Trying to help guide my student through his
own beginning work as a teacher in the classroom was amazing!
Teachers are constantly thinking
about so many things all at the same time. By working with him, I learned again
how many small pieces of information we have to juggle to put together the
right lesson to meet the needs of our diverse array of learners. Helping my intern
hash through it all to be the best he could be was downright exhausting some
days, but SO worth it in the end! I wouldn't trade that experience for
anything; it re-opened my eyes to the importance of the job we do.
A lot has gotten easier over the
years. I’m at the same school, which I think has definitely helped me, and which
is truly a luxury given our current economic circumstances. I feel I have
formed friendships, have a better grasp of the culture and the way things are
done, which I have to believe is always just a little different at each school.
I think the biggest thing that has helped me assert myself a little more as an
educator is that I don't have that “new kid” feel anymore. I have gotten to
know the staff I work with, and have a very supportive boss and team.
I think the job never gets easy,
but the way we maneuver our way in and out of IEPs, SSTs, 504s, CAPAs, and
every other acronym and day-to-day event can feel a little easier as
time goes on. I would start to worry if teaching started to feel easy and like
the fact that my students always manage to keep me learning and on my
If I had to think of advice for
new teachers, I would say there are two major things that I am still learning
and may very well always be working on because they are so hard to embrace, but
so critical to both your sanity and success:
1. Live in the moment.
Be as 'zen' as you can and truly allow the day to slow down so you can enjoy
your students as much as you hope they are enjoying you and your lessons. It
makes a huge difference in their reactions, retention, and overall love of
It sounds so
simple, but when you have meetings, assessments, lessons, and
more-than-occasional hiccups in your schedule, it is so easy to fall into this
pattern of checking the clock and just hoping you get everything in for the
day. Once you cross the thin line between planning two steps ahead, and fully
focusing on what those two steps will look like, it can be very stressful —
2. Make sure your
lessons, your attitudes, your conversations around students, etc., are all
pointing in the direction of just how fun and exciting learning can be. It is
really hard sometimes to mask how frustrated we might be when it comes to
budget cuts, upset parents, or just being plum overwhelmed, but it is so
crucial that students never have any part in that. Even if we think we are “leaving
it at the door,” I am positive that it still shows one way or another and the
students and paraeducators pick up on everything.
I needed to make
a change to help myself with this, so I made a 'Why I Have the Best Job"
list, and I go through it every morning now before I drive to work. You'd be
amazed at what that can do to your outlook even if you already have something
stressful on the schedule that day.
I'd also highly recommend
keeping a journal, and taking the time to always look back and see just how far
you've come. I think overall, it is just important to keep loving what you
do. Embrace the fact that 'eing a teacher is synonymous with being a learner,
and that as long as we are teaching our learning will never end. And our students may actually end up teaching
us more than we teach them.