Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Note to My Former Self

Dear Me,

You're young, smart, ambitious, and about to embark on a wonderful adventure as a teacher. I know you are packed full of information and education about how to be the best possible teacher you can be... the enthusiasm, creativity, and energy are glowing around you. But I have a little bit of advice for you that isn't so academic. Maybe you will listen to your future self.

  1. Don't reinvent the wheel. Yes, your ideas are wonderful, engaging, and creative... but you will burn yourself out faster than a candle in a vacuum if you try to recreate the whole curriculum. A healthy dose of trust and humility will take you far. Try to focus on building one or two creative ideas a month. Over the years, you will have plenty of time to build a terrific repertoire that makes you proud. In the meantime, look around - an abundance  of wonderful resources are just waiting for you to utilize them.
  2. Share and share alike. Some people are not so good at sharing the ideas and resources that they create... maybe out of fear of criticism, or perhaps a lack of confidence. Luckily, this has never been your trouble. Your enthusiasm for getting your ideas out there will take you far. But don't forget the other side of the coin: invest time in listening to other ideas (even if you disagree at first) and don't be afraid to ask others to share with you. People want to help you; let them. Just treat your peers with respect and appreciation and you will be amazed by the wonders of reaping the benefits of someone else's experiences.
  3. Reserve judgement as much as possible. I know that there are plenty of people who appear to be slackers, grumps, nay-sayers, users, and just plain jerks. As a nose-to-the-grindstone bundle of creative energy, it is so easy to criticize and see faults. Someday soon you will experience more of life's challenges: difficult or unreasonable students/parents, demanding administration, mountains of grading, illness, 24-hour infants, family management, ailing parents, crushing debt, and numerous untold emergency situations. You will see how easy it is to get bogged down and worn out, and then you will wish you could go back in time and just give those people a hug.
  4. Enjoy your peers. Go out for beers on a Friday afternoon. Invite them over for a planning party at your place. Go to conferences together. Meet their families. And don't hide in your classroom at lunchtime... eat lunch together! These people are your best resource and safety net for retaining sanity in this job. Treat these relationships with the utmost respect, and don't forget to invite the grumps too. Some of them will surprise you. I promise.
  5. Be diligent about keeping a diary. A key ingredient of personal improvement and professional development is self-reflection. Time spent on revisiting the day's (or week's) successes and failures is time well spent, and the rewards are even greater if this reflection is shared in a community of peers: like a blog. Just remember that the feedback you elicit will reflect the tone of your comments, so if you want constructive and uplifting feedback, dish out the same.
  6. Make organization a top priority. One year, you will need to move out of state, and you will be inspired to go on an organizational blitz so that you can share your legacy with the friends/peers you leave behind. The fruits of this blitz will be wonderful paper and digital archives. I have relied upon these archives more times than you can imagine... and have regretted the multitudes of resources that have since gotten lost in piles (real and virtual). Think of me, your future self, as your very best friend - making my life easier will be rewarded handsomely.
  7. Use your summertime wisely. You will be exhausted when the school year ends. I know you will have worked hard for 80 hours a week (or more) all year long and you will not be able to think of anyone who deserves a 2 month vacation more than you. I'm here to tell you that it gets easier... but do you know what really makes the difference in time demands? Preparation and organization. Give yourself ONE month of vacation. Really, it's enough... because your future self will thank you for the time spent cleaning up last year's mess and creating thoughtful, reusable plans for the future.
Most of all: Keep your head up. Breathe deeply. And don't let the turkeys get you down. Lots of beautiful people and wonderful experiences are coming your way. Don't forget to enjoy the ride.

Lots of love,
Your future self


  1. I wish I'd seen this list three years ago. Although my problem with summers isn't that I take too much time off- I work all the way through. I guess that's also a way to burn out. I think you need to add a "learn to relax" entry. I don't know what to do with myself when I don't have planning to do. I guess I go online and read up on what other teachers are doing... not really a break. Hm.

  2. I love this!
    i just found your blog and I am enjoying every word you write!
    Keep writing

  3. Also, I LOVE the idea of this post...I might recreate my own version of it at:

  4. There is a lot of good advice for all teachers here. It is so easy to isolate yourself as a teacher...

  5. Lol @ eat lunch together. Some teachers microwave their food and stink up the whole cafeteria! No ma'm!! Lol...but I understand your intention though. Too many think they are an island unto themselves. DEFINITELY need to emphasize collaboration. Good list!