Another school year is on the horizon. Teachers are cramming in last minute vacations, working in their classrooms, and enjoying their last few mornings to sleep late. After five years of retirement, I get a little nudge of envy this time of year when I pass schools and see teacher cars in the parking lots and coaches readying their practice fields. Miles of bulletin board border stretches through schools across the nation as teachers take great pains to build “Welcome Back to School” displays. Coaches scramble to ensure ice machines are working for the 100-degree plus heat indexes they will encounter in August and early September, and the excitement grows as band and cheerleaders roll out new shows and skits for football half-time and pep rallies.
Do I miss it? HELL NO! Global warming has so dismantled this old body, I wouldn’t last five minutes under a Mississippi sun in mid-August. As for bulletin boards, I was one of those coaches who used the same bulletin board for sixteen consecutive years. The school librarian or a lady teacher who felt sorry for me would help me change the border once or twice a year, but that was the extent of my bulletin board creativity. No, I don’t miss the heat, the prep, or the job at all, but I do miss the kids and the people I worked with for so many years.
Since retiring, I have kept my distance from the school house, but at the beginning of each new school year I raise my head just high enough to offer a little advice to teachers. During thirty-seven years as an educator, I learned a thing or two about the profession. I learned the hard way through stubbornness, luck, trial and error, and from people a lot smarter than me that there are certain practices and principles that can make a teacher’s job a little less stressful and help them feel less alone. YES, I said less alone! Although surrounded daily by big and little people, teachers are in many ways engaged in the loneliness job on earth. Often, they feel like they are swimming alone in a sea of negativity shackled by lead expectations and mandates few understand and fewer can explain [differentiated instruction in a classroom of thirty instantly comes to mind]. So, if I can offer a tidbit or two that might make a new or veteran teacher’s day a little better or prolong a career, I feel justified sharing the little I know. Therefore, from the shadows of retirement where retirees become better teachers and administrators with each passing day, I offer the following advice, support, and consolation:
What Every Teacher Needs to Consider
- Teaching is not about delivering seeds; it is about planting, cultivating, and harvesting;
- Never sell your students or yourself short. Prepare for class, teach in class, and hold students accountable in class;
- Teach like you want your children to be taught. If you are not okay with your child’s teacher giving less than his/her best in the classroom, don’t settle for less than your best when teaching someone else’s children;
- Don’t worry about your pay. There is nothing wrong with wanting a pay raise but be thankful for what you have. You signed a contract saying you were willing to work for a certain amount of money, so work for it. The time to be unhappy with your pay is before you sign on the dotted line. Kids don’t care how much money you make, and in the classroom, there are more important things for a teacher to worry about than a paycheck;
- If you would rather be somewhere other than the classroom, do yourself and the kids a favor and be somewhere else – preferably not in teaching;
- Worry only about the things you can control, pray about the things you might can influence, and don’t waste your time or breath on what you cannot control;
- Understand you will never be fully appreciated for all you do as a teacher. Don’t waste time or sleep worrying about it. Refer to #6 when negatives get you down;
- Politicians are not your friends. Parents are not your friends. Students are not your friends. If you need a friend, or someone to be there for you when things go south, look in the mirror or look to your family;
- Although teaching days can become long and tedious, DON’T look for excuses to show movies, assign busy work, or allow free time in class! Very little if any student learning takes place during such lazy stagnant activities. Teaching is about learning, and teachers have a limited amount of time to make learning happen. DO your job to ensure students have a fair chance to learn in your classroom. Students have greater respect for teachers who follow this practice;
- Be proud to be a teacher. Stand tall in the knowledge you are smarter, more courageous, thicker skinned, more loving, and more resilient than 90% of the population. The other 10% are retired school teachers;
- Remember of all the professions God could have chosen for his son, he made him a teacher, so remember, as a teacher you represent the best of the best. You stand in elite company; and
- The best you can hope for in life is to have more good days than bad. Teaching is no different.
Finally, probably the two best pieces of advice I can offer are . . .
A GREAT TEACHER WILL ALWAYS DO WHAT IS BEST FOR HIS/HER STUDENTS!
GREAT TEACHERS TEACH AND DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!
Teaching is an awesome ride for those with the courage and perseverance to stay in the saddle, but it is not for the faint of heart, the selfish, or the lazy. It takes a special person to be a teacher, and I pray God’s blessings will be with all those special people during the coming school year. WELCOME BACK!
©Jack Linton, July 20, 2018