In-person or remote, new or experienced, you are about to sail off into a beautiful, messy, and challenging, intellectual, emotional, and social journey with a handful of children. Now in my eleventh year of education, I’ve been reflecting on what has been the most critical pieces of advice I’ve received over time. While the below list is certainly not exhaustive, I strongly believe these basic five tenants have contributed to some of the success and fulfillment I’ve had as a teacher. As we enter a complex and undoubtedly unique school year, it is essential we pause to frame our mindsets.
Develop and Stick to Your Vision
Hopefully, over the course of your career you have begun developing a vision for what you want your class to look and feel like, and how you want children to think and act when they are in your room. Do not abandon this vision if your classroom this year is a Zoom room, because though definitely strange, you are still in a powerful position to change children’s lives. Think of a blank frame: now fill it with your classroom at its absolute best. Keep it in your mind for a bit, solidify it, go back to it frequently, reimagine it to push your expectations. Graduate your vision and lift expectations. At any moment your classroom teeters away from that vision, even in those darker days where the stress and uncertainty feel overwhelming, you must react because your kids deserve that excellence you imagined. Holdfast to your vision and seek help when you need it.
Remember They are Children
You are teaching children. They have the capacity to frustrate, evoke anger and sadness and feelings of inadequacy. At any moment you catch yourself describing a child in a way that reflects your negative emotion, stop. Remember they are little, they do not have your perspective or wisdom. They are testing out who they are and figuring out how they fit in to this world. They are children. We mustn’t put restricting labels (they’re bad; he’s mean; she’s not good at math; this group is_____.) We must lead with kindness. We must forgive, empathize, and nurture – the children we serve rely on us for this. We must talk about them in ways that exhibit our love for and belief in them. We must also relish in the joy and laughter they can bring us as they are incredibly funny and full of ideas.
You’re Not Perfect or Expected to Be
In a job where you are making thousands of decisions a day, and in an industry that is in unprecedented turmoil, you are going to make many, many mistakes. In fact, some days, you may feel like you’ve done nothing right. This feeling is normal, but the notion is wildly untrue. You are not perfect nor expected be. All of us, including your leaders, are in a course of development trying our hardest to be the best we can be for the children we serve. Always try your hardest, but do not expect to be perfect. Acknowledging mistakes and learning from them is how we get better. It is sign you are AWARE! Lean into, and not away from your weaknesses.
Loving Learning Starts with You
You are the general in the war against boredom! And yes, you can cultivate a love of learning from afar. If you don’t love learning your scholars’ wont either, full stop. It is imperative we remain leaners as adults. You must study vigorously, you must engage deeply in the literature, writing, math, social studies, science, grammar, Latin, and phonics you teach. You must ask questions, discuss big ideas in depth, and engage with your colleagues. You must get creative with engaging scholars remotely and incentivizing their participation. You must exude your love of learning and show children that it is fun to learn, that the acquisition of knowledge and skills can be magical and can provide them opportunities in life.
Team Over Individual
The start of school may look different this year and although we may be figuring this out from our separate homes, you are not in this alone. You have an enormous team and a gaggle of people rooting for you. Your network, your coach, your school leaders, the teachers on your team, and the teachers just a Zoom call away, are all here for the same reason: to educate children. Leverage the fact that there is an amazing amount of intellectual capital in this industry. There are math experts, amazing artists, incredible writers, noted researchers, talented performers, and expert teachers and leaders. Reach out for help and keep your proverbial door open for questions. Do not suffer in silence and do not think you can accomplish excellence alone. Success is much more satisfying when it is shared with others.
I believe strongly that if you teach with, and heed, these basic tenants, your year will be extremely rewarding. I wish you bounties of luck and joy this school year. I am here for YOU, so please reach out with questions, partnership ideas, requests to just talk through ideas, or anything else. I could not imagine a better group of people to do this very difficult, but worthwhile, work with. YOU GOT THIS!!!!
This post was contributed by Mr. Alex Newman, Instructional Coach at South Bronx Classical III. As a non-CMO charter network, we rely on the thoughts, opinions, and innovations of our staff to move our mission forward and provide an excellent academic option to families in the South Bronx. To hear more from our staff, check out the next post! Or, click here to learn more.