my-reflections-on-education

The Best Advice I've Received

Maura O'Reilly

It’s January! Everyone is making resolutions! Why is that? The calendar is a man-made invention. There isn’t anything magical about December 31st turning into January 1st. Not that you shouldn’t go out and celebrate and have fun! I just mean, if you want to make changes, you can do that anytime. Right now if you like! We have so much more control over our happiness than we realize.

If you are looking to make changes in your classroom, in your approach to education, or in finding more peace as an educator, I thought these timbits of advice might help.

Timbits donut holes

These are some wonderful gems I have been blessed to have picked up over the years. I hope they help reduce the pressure you may feel as a teacher. Let them come to mind the next time you are feeling stressed or anxious.

You could hide under your desk all year and some kids will still learn to read.

you hiding under your desk

This fabulous sentence was sage advice from an experienced teacher. Trying to jump through all the hoops to teach students reading can be exhausting. It is also scary because you may feel like it all rests on you: you have this child for 10 months and if s/he isn’t reading much better by the end of the school year, you (feel like you) have failed.

The truth is, however, that students will learn to read (multiply, analyze, infer, you name it) in their own time. You can help them tons, and so can their parents and others in their lives. Their own desire, however, forms a big part of when reading success will happen. For some students, you could never even ask them to read a book and they would jump levels and levels over the course of the year. That is awesome! For the ones that trail slowly behind - that’s okay too! As long as we don’t quash a love of learning, you really could hide under your desk and still see some measure of growth in your students.

If they don’t get it this year, they’ll get it next year.

school year

I am so thankful for this advice because it mostly sums up my science lessons. I am no science guru - and I have tried to be one. It just isn’t a subject that naturally makes sense to me. I don’t understand how an entire tree grows out of a tiny seed and I have no desire to dissect anybody’s anything. And that is okay! I cannot be an expert in everything I teach. I just don’t have the time or energy to devote to becoming fluent in each subject or content area. So I instead try to excel in the areas in which I feel more comfortable.

I love to learn more about science when I can. (Actually, I just watched a cool documentary that featured the peacock mantis shrimp. So amazing!) Because each teacher has his/her own strengths, I know if my science lessons fall short, it’s okay. Sometime in the future, my students will have an amazing science teacher (or see a great documentary or meet an amazing scientist) that will make up for my less-than-riveting science classes. 

Close your door and teach your class.

door close

A vice-principal said this to me before I even started teaching. I was doing an internship, working with students in small groups to develop self-esteem and social skills. A lot of teachers were reluctant to have their students withdrawn from class. That year, a new curriculum had been implemented in Ontario and, as it was vastly different from what had previously been in place, teachers were very stressed trying to cover everything by the end of the year.

The vice-principal explained that the teachers and students were caught up in these changes and it was creating a difficult situation. He said: “When all the political bullsh*t is going on around you: just close your door and teach your class because the students are what matter and they are not involved in the politics.”

This is the best advice I have ever received. There have been several times in my career as a teacher that I physically closed my door so that I could tune out all the issues happening with administration, colleagues, parents, whoever, and just focus on the children in front of me. It is so helpful and calming. It resets your priorities and helps you do your best in the moment.

 

These may not be the most professional-sounding statements and probably aren’t on any list of best practices, but to me, they are so helpful. They are a reminder to put less pressure on myself. The fate of everything does not rest in my classroom.

If it helps, write these down and display them at your desk. I would definitely recommend writing down and posting any other excellent advice you receive. If it resonates with you, keep repeating it so that it is mentally available to you when you need it.

For today: just keep going. 

For more about dealing with teacher stress, click here


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