You may have noticed from my previous posts that
- I’m a fairly reflective teacher
- I’ll admit when I make a mistake in teaching
- I like to pass on the wisdom gleaned from those mistakes.
I especially feel a sense of duty to share everything I’ve learned these past 16 with new teachers.
I mean, let’s admit it – teaching is impossibly difficult at first, but under the right conditions, it gets so much easier!
This recently came to my mind as I was listening to a podcast by Amy Porterfield.
For those of you who don’t know her, she’s a successful entrepreneur who does webinars, courses, and has a weekly podcast. I’m really into her content right now as I’m trying to start my own business without any prior business training or knowledge.
Not surprisingly, my experience these past few months have paralleled what it was like my first few years of teaching. It’s been so overwhelming and stressful, especially when you take into consideration that I’m also teaching full time and have a family!
The First Stage
During this particular episode of Amy’s podcast, she discussed the three phases of starting a business, and obviously, I’m in the first one. As she and her guest, Marie Forleo, discussed Stage 1: Start Up, I realized that not only was I in this phase, but in many ways it mirrored the first stage of being a teacher!
For example, in my first year of teaching, I recall trying to do it all, and expecting to be good at it. There was so much to learn, but so little time to sit down and process it. I just wanted to get in there, try everything out, and hope it would stick.
The First Stage 2.0
I’m definitely in that same boat right now. I’m constantly reading blog posts, listening to podcasts, and taking online courses in order to figure out how to run a successful business. Since I didn’t go to business school, I’m grateful that there’s SO MUCH free and valuable information out there.
However, I’m struggling to find time to absorb it and make sense of it all. I feel a sense of urgency to just jump in take action, so I’m trying to implement everything I’m learning all at once, and in an à la carte way.
But therein lies the problem that I, and many new teachers, have – trying to do too much without knowing what we’re doing.
In the episode, Marie put it so well, “I was running completely on passion and drive, not on experience and certainly not on education.”
Biting off more than I can chew
As I continue to wade into a new world with strange vocabulary such as pixels, ROI, CRM, and sales funnel, my mind is swarming as I attempt to make sense of it all. I’m trying to:
- Grow my Pinterest followers and point them to my blog
- Have more of a presence on Twitter
- Engage with followers on Instagram
- Post regularly to my Facebook page
- Create a lead magnet to get more subscribers
- Plan a webinar, etc.
Don’t even get me started on the maze that is the Facebook Ads Manager!
Despite trying to implement all of this, I’m not actually getting better at any of it, as evidenced by fledgling mailing list. The sheer amount of work you have to do to succeed as an entrepreneur is enough to make any sane full-time person just throw up their hands and quit.
Too much too soon
It finally dawned on me that I don’t have to do that, I just have to focus and become good at one thing at a time. I don’t have to be good at it all right now.
This is the biggest mistake I see new teachers making. They’ve spent so much time and money acquiring a teaching credential, so they come into the teaching profession ready to conquer it all.
They try to implement classroom procedures, create classroom culture, manage behaviors, write lessons, give feedback, communicate with parents, and so much more. And while these are all things that teachers should definitely master, nobody expects them to master them right away.
This is why so many teachers burn out within the first few years – they’re trying to take on too much too soon. Yes, they have to technically do all of the above, but they need to stop trying to be good at it all right off the bat.
Focus on what’s important
The most important idea I gleaned from that podcast episode is that right now I need to focus on building my email list and cultivating relationships with my subscribers. Everything else will come down the line, and as my online presence grows, so will my followers, and in turn, my business.
This has helped me relax and forgive myself for not being successful yet, especially since I consistently put out content that (I hope) is valuable to my readers.
I want to pay this forward, so new teachers, LISTEN UP:
Before any lesson, any assessment, or any group activity, the most important aspect of teaching that you MUST focus on is establishing classroom culture and classroom management. You should spend your first couple of years getting those two skills down, and everything else can wait. You want students that respect you and each other, that understand and believe in the journey you’re taking them on, and have enough buy-in to feel responsible for their part in that journey. At this point in your career, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.
Why this matters
Look – you can teach literally anything to anyone if your presence commands attention and exudes warmth and understanding. If you establish routines for an organized and functioning classroom. If you create an environment that encourages risk, is empathetic to failure, and celebrates wins of all sizes.
My student don’t necessarily enjoy identifying and/or creating various types of sentences, but you’d think that I gave them word candy by the way they dive in with gusto.
Fixing fragments and subject-noun agreement? My students work on those with such enthusiasm that you’d think I bribed them.
Many of my students hate English and struggle to read and write, but they’ll tell you that they absolutely love and look forward to my class each day.
What’s my secret sauce?
From day one of each school year, I focus on creating a rapport with my students, and I consistently foster those relationships no matter how I’m feeling. I remember that I’m the adult in the room, and that my actions have a direct effect on my students’ behavior.
I don’t necessarily have to be gregarious or overly animated, and I definitely don’t have to be their friend, but I do have to emanate control, confidence, and energy.
When you teach in this way while also being sensitive to the fact that they’re just kids, they will eat out of your hand.
It takes time to get to this point, so you have to be purposeful in your teaching in order to achieve it. In the podcast episode, Amy and Marie discuss developing habits of mind in the first stage of business, as well as being disciplined.
You have to be focused on what matters most, and commit to training yourself and practicing until it becomes second nature. When I switched to teaching English, this was especially pertinent because it was a subject that many students loathed. I had to go all in with classroom management and cultivating an environment that students couldn’t wait to be a part of.
Therefore, as a new teacher, you should literally be obsessed with this and let everything else work itself out.
Let some of it go
Stop staying up late creating those amazing lessons. Instead, beg, borrow, or buy them. Seriously. Someone with more experience made that lesson, so you can trust that it will do a good enough job for now.
Rather than spending the time creating cute worksheets or life-changing units of study, you should focus on planning your delivery, anticipating where students may get stuck, how you’ll deal with those problems, etc. Plan short trust and team-building exercises on a regular basis.
Make it a priority to have a positive learning environment every day. When this becomes natural to you and requires little effort, then you can add on more layers to your teaching.
You don’t know what you don’t know
I’m lucky that I now a business mentor and friend to help me navigate through all of this.
All of my research led me to believe that if I missed even one element in my business, it would languish. My mentor helped me see the important things I should focus on first, and what I can add on as I get more momentum.
While the perfectionist in me still wants to be awesome RIGHT NOW and “10x my business!!!!” (salesy buzz words), I’m aware that thinking this way will actually sabotage my progress and create anxiety. I’m supposed to be doing this because I enjoy the challenge and truly want to help other teachers, and if I kill myself trying to be good at it right away, I’m going to eventually abandon it.
As a mentor to new teachers, this experience gives me so much insight as to how I can better serve my mentees, and affirms what I’ve been preaching this whole time.
Trying to teach something for the first – or even second time – while managing a classroom of squirrely students is daunting. It’s as if you’re trying to juggle while standing on stilts before a crowd of thousands.
However, if you’ve already established your classroom culture and management, your students will have empathy for you and be cooperative, even if you have to keep referring to your notes, and even if they can sense your uncertainty with the lesson. You’ll be on that journey together, and they’ll stick with it no matter what.
Ask for help
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that early in Amy’s career, she had actually attended Marie’s B-school (business school)! I could tell that Marie’s wisdom had done so much to help Amy, as we would expect any mentor to.
Finding someone to shine a light on the right path is so essential in any field, especially if it keeps us from burning out, quitting, and run off cursing into the woods.
There’s no shame in asking for help, and in fact, if you’re failing at what you’re doing, I think it’s foolish to not ask!
Part of seeking help is getting advice when you fail. It’s okay to fail, in fact, it’s expected. It’s a GOOD thing. You’re going to teach a lesson that you were sure would help students master a standard, only to find it out of sequence, boring, or too difficult.
At that point, having someone to turn to and find out how to make it better next time is crucial. Otherwise, you may fall into the trap of repeating the same mistake and wondering why it didn’t work, or even worse, blaming the students.
It was through my own failure and asking for feedback that I learned how to better phrase a question, how to explain a concept in a different way, and how to pivot gracefully we something isn’t working.
I promise it gets better
I absolutely LOOOOOOOOOVE teaching! I imagine myself being that funny old teacher when I retire, who kids love but secretly make fun of.
I’ll still say my stupid jokes and endless puns, and I’ll still make the kids laugh. Of course, due to my amazing Filipino genes, I’ll also still look 35 when I’m 65, but that’s beside the point…
Just like how Amy and Marie began making money in the second stage, you, my dear new teacher, will hit your stride in no time.
- Your classes will be a well-oiled machine.
- You’ll be experimenting with different techniques, technology, and projects.
- You’ll begin to see the big picture, and freak out about fewer things.
- You’ll be able to skillfully deal with a snarky student while assisting another.
- And you’ll go home feeling exhausted, but accomplished.
All of this can be yours, as long as you focus on what’s important right now.
If you’re a new teacher, I hope you have a mentor or colleague you can go to for guidance. It’s a non-negotiable part of your teaching journey!