Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Distinguished isn't Home.


 I awoke this morning on my last day of a five day vacation with my family in Florida.  Palm Trees, Warm Sand, Margaritaville desserts larger than my head, and Facebook posts from teachers at home lamenting and criticizing the lack of a two hour delay due to the slick roads and falling snow.  About eight hours from now, their nightmare will be mine as well.  

Meanwhile, this morning, we've heard tales of the anticipated "frigid" temperatures expected here.  FORTIES!  Last night, you could tell who were the natives and who were the vacationers, based upon the layers worn on CityWalk.  Those of us from PA decided on long pants.  Floridians had puffy NorthFace jackets, scarves, and gloves.

It's amazing how perspective influences reactions.

 The Te@chthought Prompt for the day plays nicely into this reflection on perspective:

What advice can you give a new teacher as to the priority or focus for energy as they begin their careers?

For the last five days, I've been "Living in Distinguished."  Warm, but not too hot, surrounded by family, answering to multiple requests from someone who calls me Beanie, and eating desserts for dinner.  It's been a great vacation, but I know it is coming to an end.

What's that "Living in Distinguished" stuff about, you ask?  Well, it's my advice to new teachers.  The new framework for teachers makes for an easily-discouraged teacher.  Teachers, by nature, expect perfection of themselves -- especially when it comes to evaluations.  Charlotte Danielson's framework has taken the joy out of teaching for many, simply because there are very few smiley faces ever placed in the margins of what we do these days.  If you spend your days attempting to live there, you won't ever be at home.  

There are few teachers who actually make it into the classroom these days who are teaching for any reason other than answering a true calling.  It's too tough a job to do as a J-O-B.  Even if you do get "summers off" and 2 hour delays or closings when the roads are icy.  Sure, these things seem like perks, but most of the time you have to find your own.  Here's a short checklist of some inexpensive things to do to survive your first year.

  • Teaching is one of the few professions where you spend more on supplies for work than your employer.  School tissues and paper towels are tools that teach students the quality of absorption of their sleeves, as everyone knows that these devices are not fit to be touched by humans.  So spend a few bucks on tissues when they're on sale, and make the day of a sick student by showing you care.  It's not on the framework, but it will be worth the investment.
  • Eat lunch in the faculty room.  There are teachers in my building that I never see.  Some because they eat a different lunch than I do, and others because they choose to scarf down lunch while hunched over their desks.  Shake it off.  You can really rejuvenate quite a bit in the 28 minutes at lunch.
  • Friend your coworkers on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. I have developed some amazing friends through interactions on social media -- but the relationships developed because of shared interests in the world, not through interactions in our classrooms.  Consequently, we now share quite a bit in the way of resources with each other as we encounter them, knowing the quirks and passions we share.
  • Arrive early OR leave late. Don't do both.  You can spend hours and hours doiing everything that needs to be done.  The reality is YOU WILL NEVER be on top of things, so do what you absolutely need to do for the next day, and then find time to be a human being.  Nobody expects you to work 24/7, even if you do get summers off.
  • Keep a Happy File.  And throw away the crap.  When you get a thank you from someone, put it in a file.   If a student leaves you a smiley post-it note with a goofy greeting, stick it inside a closet door. If you get an email, save it.  But only if it is positive.  Throw away anything that ticks you off.  When life is overwhelming, go to your Happy File.
  • Save your class photos (elementary teachers).  Save the senior pictures that kids give you (high school teachers).  Put student pictures inside your closet door, and realize how many successes you've taught.
  • Consider leaving an epic mark by pulling a Dale Kirby.
Every journey worth taking begins with a single step.  And walking around someplace you've made feel like home is so much better than attempting to Live in Distinguished.