It’s that season where newly-minted educators graduate and begin looking for their first jobs. I remember this time so well: full of so much hope and excitement, trepidation (will I ever get a job??) to being downright terrified (I’ve got a job!…..my very own class….now what???). It’s one of those moments in your career that you never forget. And there are a few things that I’ve learned along the way that I wish my commencement speaker had told me before I started out on this wonderful journey.
1.) Don’t let anyone tell you “can’t”.
In the field of education, you’re going to hear a lot of “No” and a bunch of “Can’t”. All sorts of people, from your administrators to your team leader to the parents of your students will say that either YOU “can’t” do something or that your STUDENTS “can’t” do something. That’s just not true. If you have a passion for yourself, your students and your work, you absolutely CAN do anything your put your mind to – as long as it’s legal, ethical and in the best interest of children.
When you hear that dreaded word, simply nod and smile, go back to your classroom and figure out a way that you can do it on your own. For example, if your team leader says you “can’t” buy new, more relevant textbooks for your students because it’s not in the budget, figure out a way that you can use technology to your advantage instead. Be creative – don’t every let one single, solitary word stop you from doing what you know is right.
2.) It’s all about perspective, baby.
Everyone gets mired down in the muck every once in a while. When people decide to stay in that muck, that’s when they become irrelevant in education. It’s a choice, and unfortunately, it’s one that many people fall prey to. It’s so easy to get caught up in the negative things that go on in a school and a community. If you choose to participate in the mentality that nothing will ever change, then nothing ever will. Wake up! Look around you! Make the choice to pull yourself up the ladder, out of the muck and make a change for the better. The perspective from even mid-way up the ladder is way different than when you’re stuck in the muck.
3.) Garbage In, Garbage Out.
This is a wonderful observation by another artist that rings true the longer I’ve been in education. What you put into your brain, what you feed it, will eventually be what comes out of your mouth and out of your life. If you constantly feed yourself with negative information from your colleagues, from society, from the news for heaven’s sake (right, Gov. Christie??), that is exactly what will end up coming out in your life and in your teaching.
As Lily Tomlin once said, “My brain can only hold one thought at a time – why not make it a good one?”. Go feed yourself with as much positive information that you can get your hands on for what you do – find new teaching strategies, take an online class, join a discussion forum on new ways to incorporate technology in the classroom. Do something to make yourself better – not just in the classroom, but in life. Fill your bucket with only good things and there will be no room left for anything unhealthy.
4.) If you’re going to dream, dream big.
Allow yourself the luxury to dream every single day. When you first start teaching, this is a pretty common thing. You dream all the time about what your class will accomplish, how you’re going to be a rock star teacher and change the world. That’s great! But then, life kicks you in the butt a little bit. Every teacher that’s out there who has been teaching for more than a couple of years will tell you that dreams become more scarce the longer you stay in education. And that’s exactly the opposite of the way it should be! The longer we are in education, the bigger the dreams should get!
Give yourself permission to dream – because in that dream lies the pearls of a reality that can be achieved if you will just persevere. Lots of people are going to think that you’re not being realistic. That’s fine – let them think that. But if you have put parts 1-3 in place, you will be a rock star – to every single child that passes beyond your classroom door. Who knows what your dreams may achieve – the power of those dreams lie in the reality of the futures of each child you teach. No one can take that from you….unless you choose to give it away.
It is my hope that as an educator, whether new or experienced, you will print this and put it in a safe place. And every once in a while, you will unfold that paper and take the time to reignite the passion you have inside – because a true educator’s spark never dies.
Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.