Week 4: Being an Island, Staying Connected

Week 4: Being an Island, Staying Connected

I make a commitment to be as honest as possible in each of these posts – I really do believe that half-truths in teaching cause as much trouble as lies. Honesty is the same thing as integrity, and both those things make life simpler and more valuable.

The current political climate is bad for integrity. (If anyone is reading this 5 years later, or something, Trump was just elected.) People are angry, sad, confused, and they will be that way off and on for a long time. This leads to an extremely divisive society, and for some teachers who have felt this way at work, you know how much of your soul can be sucked away by that kind of climate. So it is as good a time as any to talk about not being an island.

Unlike classroom discipline tips, the advice to stay connected to other people in order to not get buried in work is prevalent. So what can I add to the party? Perhaps just a comment on leaving work at work. Early in my teaching years I was the kind of teacher who thought every activity outside of work had to be in some way connected to work, meaning that I spent most evenings at school competitions and events or volunteering for school clubs and community events. This approach does help a new teacher get to know the community they have chosen to join, and may help stave off miscommunication with parents down the road. However, for any teacher, too much time at “work” will make you go crazy (you may find yourself at your computer, typing the same sentence over and over, until you crack and stagger out into a snowstorm…you know what I mean?)

I recently met with a friend who just began their first year of teaching – they have joined the noble ranks of the teaching profession. This means that we were able to have a moment of telepathic understanding about teacher life. The moment was this: that you can easily be an overwhelmed zombie during the week, and on the weekend, you remember that you are an interesting person with a great personality and lots of friends. Where does that person go during the school week?

So, leave work at work. Do not live, eat, and breathe your job. The proof that this is important comes from teachers who are leaving the profession because they feel as though they can’t keep up – one is linked below in the extra resources. Staying connected to yourself is as important as connecting with friends, co-workers, and the community. And when John Donne said that “no man is an island” I do not think he meant only that everyone needs help, or that it is impossible to hide from society. I think he also meant that no man is an island inside – everyone is multi-faceted. Think about the fact that Mr. Donne was born in 1572 – math teachers, how long has staying connected been an issue?no-man-is-an-island-dwight

The other main point about staying connected regards how connected you are. Sadly, going out with fellow teachers on Friday night to drink and vent is not as helpful as we would like! You still wake up on Saturday with the same problems as last week. Here’s the hard part – opening up and getting help with your teaching; letting others know you are serious about improving. And why is this tough? See Week 2: Learning to Trust.

In a nutshell (or in a coconut shell carried here by a European or African swallow):

  1. Remember who you are outside of your job.
  2. Connect with others as honestly as you do socially.

Next week! I’ll introduce myself a bit more! In the meantime, share your tips about what works for you in order to stay connected to others and yourself!


Connect with these amazing sources:

What can you do in order to balance your life and learn from this teacher’s experience?http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/schools/a-teacher-speaks-out-im-effectively-being-forced-out-of-a-career-that-i-wanted-to-love-9695706.html

Need to smile right now? Check out Bored Teacher: https://boredteachers.com/blogs/the-faculty-room

Your local library! Singles or couples groups! Gyms! Pottery classes! Community music! Nonprofit volunteering!


Week 1: Take the “Student” Out of Student Teacher


We begin with a POP QUIZ!

  1. What is the main difference between a student teacher and a teacher?

a. Maturity

b. Accountability

c. Salary

d. Responsibility

Duh, the answer is b. Accountability. (You may have been tempted to go for c. Salary, but don’t forget some student teachers have part-time jobs, so they can keep paying their rent in the semester before getting that “real” job.) As soon as you book that gig and have spent a week over the summer (or three weeks, if you’re precocious) decorating your classroom, you are suddenly flooded with confidence. You are a real adult now, and you are in charge of what happens in YOUR classroom. Heaven help you.

Student teaching is hugely important. You get to experience the schedule of a teacher, which is highly regulated; and you get to observe how they work with students in the classroom. If you’re lucky, you may even get to teach an entire unit of instruction and be present at staff meetings and parent-teacher conferences. It is the first time that you are acting as an adult, every day, away from the supervision of your professors. Congratulations!

Student teaching is also not an accurate representation of teaching. For one thing, not being the only adult in the classroom means that there is always someone there to step in if things get CRAZY. (Examples of crazy: the technology isn’t working, three students can not stop talking about the school dance, and another student just spilled the orange juice that they were trying to sneak a drink of.) Imagine Mad-Eye Moody saying “ACCOUNTABILITY” in the same tone of voice as “CONSTANT VIGILANCE.”

Also, some supervising teachers meet the requirements of the college student teaching semester, and the rest of the time, treat the student teacher as a glorified teacher aide. They don’t mean to, but they have a very good reason: It’s because the teacher only has a certain amount of time to make sure their classroom is prepared for the next test, the next performance, or the next state-mandated unit. It’s because the students will not see you as a “real” teacher yet, so they will treat your lessons with less seriousness – for you, it is serious business, but for them, it is a holiday from regular class time. This could also mean that the students will treat you BETTER than your students will treat you when you are the official teacher. Strange, but true – student teaching can give you “false” confidence.

Which brings us to two major recommendations about the student teacher to teacher transition:

  1. Confidence. See yourself as a mature adult, and believe that what you have to give the students is important. Practice your teacher persona immediately, rather than “babysitting” and making friends with every student. Think about how your student teaching experience is more than your last passing grade before graduation. This is so difficult to do – but it will help you transform the student perspective to the teacher perspective.
  2. Communication. Ask your mentor teacher deeper questions – dig for the real story about their job, their classroom budget, the school community, parental involvement in the classroom, and more. Ask them to explain how teaching in their first years was different from what they expected. Compare the amount of time you spend on your lesson plans with how much time your mentor teacher spends on theirs. Don’t be afraid to ask them anything – and ask them if you can stay in contact with them after your semester is over! I guarantee, the answer will be yes.


Next week’s post, “Learning to Trust,” will branch out on the topic of not being afraid to communicate, with some examples from the classroom of yours truly. In the meantime, if you want more, empathize and ask questions on the discussion page! Also, here are three articles about the student teacher to teacher transition:

“6 Lessons I Learned as a Student Teacher” by Heather Sinclair Wood, CNN: http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2013/06/17/from-career-to-classroom-6-things-i-learned-as-a-student-teacher/

“What Advice Would You Give a Student Teacher?” by Jennifer Gonzalez: http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/student-teaching/

Available with access to ERIC or 2 weeks free on deepdyve.com: “Jumping in: trust and communication in mentoring student teachers” by Randi Nevins Stanulis and Dee Russell

Image from this interesting blog: http://trampleasure.net/lee/index.php/865