By Jane Morris
You’re going to get a lot of advice about teaching and most of it will be crap. So if you really want to know how to survive, print out the no-BS teacher advice below and put it in your desk! Refer to it often!
New Teacher Advice
Welcome to teaching! It’s a crazy, wild ride that will have you questioning your sanity daily. It’s also an exhausting career that can burn you out quickly if you don’t have great coping mechanisms and learn how to balance your tasks.
Here’s my top teacher advice for new and seasoned teachers. Honestly, anyone in their teaching career can benefit from these tips. Let’s dive in.
It’s Probably Not That Serious
Whatever it is that you are upset about is most likely completely messed up and not okay in a normal, healthy work setting.
Remind yourself that in 100 years we’ll all be dead and most of this won’t matter. But the way we treat each other does. Don’t turn into them. So many people get caught up in the very unimportant parts of education and miss the essential elements, the parts worth showing up for.
Curriculum? Doesn’t matter. Meetings? Don’t matter. Angry parent emails? Probably about something that doesn’t matter. Do students feel that we care about them and that they are safe at school? This matters. That’s what they’ll remember twenty years from now. The teachers who really cared about them as people. That’s why I still do it. For some of them, I am the only adult in their world who is patient and kind, and maybe it gives them an example to live by.
And yes, it’s getting harder to focus on why we’re there because some very confused people in high positions of power are pushing some very meaningless policies and procedures. It’s hard to care about hundreds of kids a day when you are not being treated like you matter. But you do and what you do matters too. Zoom out.
Fly Under the Radar as Much as Possible.
(This is so hard for me. So, so hard.)
It’s very helpful advice. Have as little contact with admin. as possible and say as little as possible around them. Don’t trust any of them until they have truly earned your trust, which can and should take years. I had to learn the hard way that people have many sides to them and will be your best friend just to get information out of you to use against you or others later. Another important aspect of flying under the radar is rarely asking for help. Unfortunately, asking for help makes you look weak to the douche bag types, and when you ask for assistance one too many times, they will start to see you as a burden. Try everything before going to an admin. who has not yet earned your trust. I understand that these people can be so fucking disgusting and awful and just plain cruel and you want to be like WHO ARE YOU TO SAY THAT TO ME when you have breath like you eat a crap sandwich every morning, and your head is like three sizes too small for your body. I know it’s hard. But that’s when you find your ride or die teacher and unload on them over coffee or drinks or weed or a really, ridiculously long text message. I do believe in karma, and that how you treat people is an energy that you are putting out into the world that will soon come right back to you.
With the amount of energy required to sustain ourselves throughout a school day, it is imperative that we go home and “leave work at work.” We must rest. But when will the lessons get planned, and the papers get graded? There is always more work to be done. It’s a bottomless pit. At some point each day you must draw a line for yourself and say GOOD ENOUGH or you will burn the hell out. No one is going to look out for your mental and emotional sanity. You are your only advocate. Love yourself enough to let go and let good enough be enough.
Take the Sick Day
If you feel sick, take a sick day. If you feel like you are so exhausted you can’t go on, take a sick day. Life will continue at school, and I can assure you that things will not completely fall apart without you. The school was okay before you started working there, and it will be okay while you rest. (Or it was a shitshow before you, and it’s not your responsibility to fix the whole thing.) There is never a good day for a sick day. There are always tests to give, events to run, and students who need you. And you will often get the stank eye from others for having taken off. People might second guess your illnesses or other obligations, but they don’t matter. They are only upset because they are not allowing themselves the time they need to rest. Did someone die? Go to the funeral. Is your grandma seriously ill? Go be with her. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. You are an adult. Your personal days are for personal use, which means it is no one’s damn business what you are using them for. I know several people who missed important events in life because they felt guilty taking time off from work. I can tell you, with certainty, that every one of them regrets those decisions. Work is work. It will be okay without you.
It’s Not About You
(This bit of teacher advice is also close to impossible for me!)
At the end of the day, the way people treat us, especially when they do not know us very well, is a reflection on them, not you. But it is really hard not to take it personally. Most adults don’t get emotionally challenged anywhere near as much as teachers do. All day long, young people are testing us, pushing us, and taking their issues out on us. We are walking targets, whether we like it or not. It’s hard not to crack. I try to remind myself, over and over again, that these are not people who know me at all. Sometimes my reactions to these situations might seem like apathy, but it is just this place I go inside where I try to feel numb. A student once commented that I taught him to “approach all situations with calmness.” That was not intentional, for I am usually quite an emotional person. But at school, I’ve seen so much, and dealt with so many different kinds of personalities, and I’ve learned that the best reaction is no reaction at all. So maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, so when a student tells me to f— off, I should just remain calm and have no reaction? How do I do that?” Despite wanting to throw that kid out the window, remember that they want you to get upset. And when you get upset, it makes it so much worse. They’re meaningless words, from someone who doesn’t know you as a person at all, and it’s just another kid, just another day. No matter what happens, it’s just another day.
Ignore the Adults Who Don’t Play Nice
There will always be other teachers who are just stank towards you and you can’t figure out why. Who cares? Find one person who gets you, who you can really be yourself with, and you’re set. I have had colleagues who were petty, backstabbing, and downright mean, especially in the beginning. But I have also bonded with others in such a deep and meaningful way. You will never laugh harder than when you and your best teacher friend are having a mental breakdown sharing horror stories after school. And no one will defend you harder than that person. Some people are just not going to take the time to get to know you, don’t care to understand you, and don’t want your input. One or two might decide they hate you, without even knowing why. That’s fine. They are not your people. You know who your people are. And if you haven’t found them yet, you will.
Top Teacher Advice
Okay, here’s the abridged version for this teacher advice: Don’t take anything seriously, fly under the radar, don’t ask for help, do less, take your sick days, and people’s stank behavior isn’t about you. Simply put, yet it is very hard to do.
But I can guarantee that if you stick to these rules, it will make a very difficult job just a bit easier. It’s still going to suck really hard… but not as much.
Jane Morris is the pen name of a teacher who would really like to tell you more about herself, but she is afraid she’ll lose her job. Jane has taught English for over 15 years in a major American city. She received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education from a well-known university and her M.A. in writing from an even fancier (more expensive) university. She has a loving family and cares about making people laugh more than anything else.
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