6 Things I Learned as a Former Teacher (and why I left)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: teaching is one of the toughest, yet most rewarding careers out there! As educators, we’re also very fortunate to be in a field where we have the opportunity to create real change and lasting impact on the lives of children. However, life happens and it’s important to look back and reflect on our time in the classroom. Here are 6 things I learned from my time as a full time Early Childhood teacher:
There’s no such thing as a bad kid
There just isn’t. I’ll quote one of my favorites by Janet Lansbury: “In my world there are no bad kids. Just impressionable, conflicted young people trying to communicate their needs and feelings the only way they know how.” Take a moment and think about how many smart, capable children might fall through the cracks because of a negative label. It’s our job not only as teachers, but adults to model compassion and positive regulation of emotions. Children come to school to learn, and if they’re treated like a “bad kid” their behavior will ultimately reflect that. If you’re experiencing a particularly difficult time working with emotional and behavioral challenges, make sure to pause and seek proper resources or specialists instead of taking out your frustration on the child.
Kindness above all
Kindness goes SO FAR! If it’s a really bad day and you’re too burnt out to be “on point”, just remember being kind is for your own good, too. Kindness comes with a number of benefits like a healthy heart, lower blood pressure, and can even slow signs of aging! You’ll also obviously feel good about yourself when you go the extra mile to be nice to others. That aside, let’s take a moment to think about how far something as small as a smile or a hug can go for a student who’s feeling anxious, tired, or just not in the best mindset to learn. You might be the only person they have to fill them up with encouraging words. It might sound cliche, but smiling is contagious! You’d be surprised how quickly the overall vibe of your classroom will change, just by smiling while speaking.
Sometimes it is just “too hard”
This is the truth. I could start listing facts like: “no teacher works just 9-3” or “we pay out of our teeny tiny pockets to fill our classrooms with the bare minimum” but the REAL answer is that by nature, teachers want to teach, and teachers care. We are passionate. We are strong. We are emotional. We want to change the world. And above all we aim to be there for every child that passes through our door. Inevitably, things get in the way of that. The AC broke down again and you have 24 cranky and hot children. Standardized tests have your learners anxious and tense. Students from crisis homes required more attention than you’re able to realistically give. Maybe you’re just fighting a nasty flu, and at the end of the day we go home thinking to ourselves “that day did NOT go as planned.” With that being said….
We all need help, and we all need to ask for it
There are heaps of us out there! Whether we’re young, old, seasoned, or new - we’re all in the same boat together. If you’re not already in a few teacher facebook or reddit groups, join them. It can be so comforting at the end of a long day to scroll and see that someone is going through the exact same thing you are. You can learn all sorts of things from (you guessed it) other teachers! Just the other day I saw a genius educator posting her idea of hanging tissue boxes upside down, under a shelf to reduce little hands spreading germs from grabbing the box. Mind blown! You can vent and rant, to the perfect audience who just “gets it.” Best of all, it’s basically guaranteed that no one in there will refer to you as a “glorified babysitter.”
Go with the flow
Just do it. Let go. Let the weight of that failed lesson plan, or that crappy assessment roll off your shoulders and move on. This is easier said than done. (If you’d like to read a little bit about reducing teacher burnout, you can click here). Happy is the teacher that is flexible! It’s easy to get bent out of shape when things in your classroom don’t go according to plan. Instead of fighting to keep your original plan, it’s sometimes best to give your students the best learning experience possible by changing things up. For example, if you had a seated activity planned, and children are struggling to stay on task, accept it and move on by introducing a more hands on or sensory activity to reset. In doing so, you’ll not only give them a break, but yourself one too. While I believe in the importance of following a methodology based mentality while planning a lesson, there should always be room for some flexibility and spontaneity. You cannot always be in control of your day.
Don’t invest too much money into your wardrobe
Target is your BFF, and no this isn’t a sponsored post. Teaching is tough enough, so we might as well look good AND be comfortable, especially if you work with younger children. I look back at some of my outfit choices from my first year of teaching toddlers (white maxi dress?!) and question my sanity. If anything, invest in a comfortable pair of shoes for those days you literally don’t sit down, and have fun bargain shopping for the rest.
Why I left the classroom
Sometimes there are universal forces beyond our control that really are the straw that breaks the camel's back. For me it was a combination of a frustrating administration, low salary, an expensive city, and a bad breakup that forced me into re-evaluating my career for the sake of survival. The decision to leave a position we’re good at and love can be very painful, and it was so for me. We all try to avoid doing the easiest thing instead of the right thing, but when you’re fighting for your students with everything you have and it’s still not enough, it can be defeating. Looking back, I urge great teachers to try to stick it out if their financial situation allows. Please, the world needs warriors like you! It’s also my belief that educators will always find their way back to helping children in some way or another, which is what I hope to do in my role as Co-Founder of beetbox. So teachers, if you must spread your wings, got for it. Just don’t fly too far :)