This week I had a bad day at my new school. I was embarrassed because I wasn’t following a certain grading policy I didn’t know was there (which is my fault for not having read the district handbook closely). I cried at school, which is always a terribly feeling. Then, when I got in my car, as if I activated some magic switch with my butt, I realized these things:
- During the last five years, I never once made it until late October without crying. In fact, in past years, I would have cried several times by now from school-related frustration.
- The administrator who pointed it out to me was so unbelievably kind. She took full responsibility (even though she shouldn’t have) for not reminding me, and she followed it up with like five minutes about how much students and parents love me and how much she values me.
- This “bad day” was nothing near like what my bad days used to be like, when something would break me that was out of my control.
- Even at the end of this “bad day,” I still felt happy, valued, and hopeful. I never felt that on my bad days before.
And then I went home and went to the gym, which I also wouldn't have done before (or, let's be real, even on my good days before).
In many ways I feel like it’s my first year all over again at my new school, but with nowhere near the level or kind of negative feelings I experienced before. Which got me thinking:
Why back then did I have to learn so many things on my own?
It's partly because I didn’t major in education in college. I majored in English because all my teachers from K-12 said FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS! THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER! YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO!, and I wanted to be a writer, so I majored in English. I knew all I needed to do was graduate and start cranking out bestsellers and live off the profit from all the movies and theme parks based on my novels!!!!
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Hahaha. Ahahaha. Haha. Ha.
(That didn’t happen.)
I ended up getting my alternative certification through a program in my area. Apparently, as alt-cert programs go it was one of the more reputable ones (there are programs that give out teaching certification in as little as 6 weeks), but even so, my first year felt like a complete and total learning curve.
I’ve heard it said that nothing can prepare you for teaching except for teaching, but I don’t think that’s true. Here are some of the things I really needed to know that the teaching books left out that would have made my first few years not entirely un-horrible, but a little less horrible.
1. How to perform copier machine surgery. I will estimate that approximately 50% of my tears during my first year were due to the copier jamming and me not being able to fix it. I can’t tell you how many total hours I wasted trying to fix jams or trekking over to another part of the school to find a non-jammed copier. Now, I’m like Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman or Cesar Milan with the copy machine. “Yeah, I think it doesn’t like Tray 1,” I found myself saying to a newbie the other day, as if it were a wild mustang I was taming.
2. Expo Marker Management. Store them upright, cap-end down. Game-changer.
3. What to do when your administration is the worst. I remember reading a chapter in a professional development book about conflict with the administration. Looking back, the examples in the book were laughable, like what to say if the principal wanted to trim the budget for a club you sponsor or get rid of the bulletin board outside your door. Did the writers of these books teach in Disneyland or something?
Where was my class on what to do when your principal tells you to forge application essays for an Ivy League principal program for her? Or when your assistant principal threatens your colleagues and students on a regular basis? Or when your principal refers to the history department as “a bunch of skinny white bitches” in an unintentionally forwarded email and goes on to win district awards for outstanding leadership? When your principal is best friends with her boss, so there’s actually nothing you can do?
I think I’ve toughened up enough since then that I would be better at handling those administrators than I was my first two years. But still, a course in What To Do When Your Administration is the Worst should be requisite for teacher training.
4. How to give a serious, stern talk without beginning to ramble, stumble, or spout nonsense. The worst is when a colleague or administrator walks up while you’re giving a serious talk and you mess up just a little part, which then makes you hyperaware of the fact that you’re speaking words, and then you find yourself talking about a documentary about an Irish mafia leader.
5. De-escalation techniques.
Teacher training: Here’s a tiny chapter on how to deal with a student who is disrespectful or even (*gasp*) refuses to do work.
Reality: Here, deal with this student who is crossing the room to literally rip out the hair of another student. Oh, and you can’t send the student to the office because your administration said nobody was allowed to write an office referral for the rest of the year. And students aren’t allowed to leave your class. Good luck!
6. Medical care. No Band-Aids unless you’re bleeding, the nurse can’t fix your headache, if your stomach still hurts in 15 minutes let me know, OR you can go to the nurse, but after you’ve turned in your test.
7. How to teach a class of 30 in which half of your students are Special Ed or Emotionally Disturbed, you have no co-teacher, and an administrator who expects you to advance all students 2-3 grade levels in 9 months.
Still beats me.
8. What DEVOLSON is and how to cope with it. If I’d known about the Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November before I started teaching, it might not have been easier, but having a diagnosis would have made life way more manageable.
9. How to redo an entire lesson plan in your head and on the spot. In teacher training, they made it sound like you might have to modify part of a lesson as you’re teaching it if you see it’s not working. But what about when your school’s electricity goes off in the middle of class and you’re given specific instructions over the intercom to keep teaching? Or when you realize on book preview day that ALL the students have read the novel you just spent five weeks planning? Or when you reserve the one computer cart for 75 classrooms in your school and find that none of the laptops are charged, or that another teacher took the laptops and TOTALLY DIDN’T EVEN USE THE GOOGLE DOC TO RESERVE IT.
Sorry. Touchy subject.
It took me years to be able to quickly transition over to a new activity confidently and without a student saying, “Uh, did you just make that up right now?”
10. Managing your budget on a teacher salary while having a savings account with actual dollars in it. Um. I still need someone to teach me this.
When I start my Love Teach Teacher Training Program To Teach Teachers How To Teach Good And To Do Other Stuff Good Too, all of these will be courses. Or maybe we should crowd-source-write a book or something (but only if it could be made into a theme park).
What have you learned from teaching that your teacher training could have never prepared you for?*
*What’s the grammatically correct version of this sentence? “For what could your teaching training have never prepared you?” Dumb. Can we just agree to dangle certain prepositions?