Words of Wisdom

graduationI may nev­er be asked to give the com­mence­ment speech at my alma mater — or yours for that mat­ter. How­ev­er, just in case the oppor­tu­ni­ty presents itself, I am ready. After con­sid­er­able reflec­tion on my 25 years as an edu­ca­tor, I can sum up my mes­sage for aspir­ing teach­ers who are about to embark on a career in the class­room with the fol­low­ing words of wisdom.

#1. Prac­tice the “Art of Being”

Being avail­able, being kind, being com­pas­sion­ate, being trans­par­ent, being real, being thought­ful, and being our­selves, this is the path that leads to success.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the “doing” when it comes to teach­ing. Once you jump on that tread­mill with your to-do list in hand, it can be dif­fi­cult to stop and rest. How­ev­er, it is the art of being that will lay the foun­da­tion for build­ing rela­tion­ships with stu­dents, par­ents and col­leagues. It is those rela­tion­ships that will play the most impor­tant role in your suc­cess as an educator.

#2. Devel­op Sta­mi­na and Speed

Be pre­pared to devel­op a com­bi­na­tion of these two con­tra­dic­to­ry but essen­tial skills. You will quick­ly real­ize that some aspects of teach­ing require you to go the dis­tance (bath­room breaks will be few and far between). At the very same time you will often need to train like you’re com­pet­ing for a spot in the Guin­ness Book of World Records (not every­one can eat an entire lunch and go to the bath­room in 20 min­utes or less).

#3. Mis­takes Are Okay

Beautiful Oops!The love­ly lit­tle book Beau­ti­ful Oops! by Bar­ney Saltzberg, offers a pro­found truth — mis­takes are much more than acci­dents or mishaps. They are oppor­tu­ni­ties to turn blun­ders into won­ders. Cre­ate a class­room cli­mate that embraces try­ing, fail­ing, and learn­ing from those errors. Set the tone for your stu­dents by cel­e­brat­ing those beau­ti­ful oops that all of us make so that every­one knows that no one is perfect.

#4. Find a “Marigold”

Sev­er­al years ago, Jen­nifer Gon­za­lez offered this wise advice to those just start­ing out:

Just like a young seedling grow­ing in a gar­den, thriv­ing in your first year depends large­ly on who you plant your­self next to… Among com­pan­ion plants, the marigold is one of the best: It pro­tects a wide vari­ety of plants from pests and harm­ful weeds.”

Seek out some­one who will serve as the type of men­tor who will sup­port you with pos­i­tiv­i­ty. Find a men­tor who will not hes­i­tate to show you the ropes, answer ques­tions and offer reas­sur­ance — you will nev­er regret spend­ing time with a marigold.

#5.  Words Mat­ter, Choose Them Carefully

Choice Words Opening MindsChoice Words and Open­ing Minds by Peter John­ston are two of the best books I’ve ever read about the impor­tant role that lan­guage plays in our efforts to reach stu­dents and pos­i­tive­ly impact their learn­ing. Both books are full of insight­ful exam­ples of how what we say (or don’t say) can make a dra­mat­ic dif­fer­ence in the lives of students. 

#6. Par­ents Are Our Part­ners — It Is Not “Us” Ver­sus “Them”

Dear ParentsToo often edu­ca­tors make hasty judg­ments about what appears to be a lack of inter­est or involve­ment on the part of par­ents. When issues flare with a stu­dent, the blame game may sur­face and the ten­sion mounts. One of the great­est invest­ments any teacher can make is to devel­op strong com­mu­ni­ca­tion and rap­port with par­ents. It’s not enough to sim­ply say you val­ue par­ent input, it is nec­es­sary to cul­ti­vate a sense of team­work and mutu­al respect.  Check out Dear Par­ents: From Your Child’s Lov­ing Teacher (Hand­book for Effec­tive Team­work) by Dana Arias for a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of let­ters that pro­mote a true alliance between edu­ca­tors and parents.

#7. Net­work, Con­nect, or Get “Linked In”

Social media offers an end­less nexus of pro­fes­sion­al groups. Dig­i­tal natives will have no trou­ble seek­ing out and min­gling online with oth­er edu­ca­tors who share the same inter­ests and frus­tra­tions yet may offer a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive or approach. In addi­tion to the vir­tu­al world of net­work­ing, don’t hes­i­tate to join orga­ni­za­tions that meet face to face, offer­ing high qual­i­ty and ongo­ing pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment. State and nation­al chap­ters of the Inter­na­tion­al Lit­er­a­cy Asso­ci­a­tion (ILA), Nation­al Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Eng­lish (NCTE), Nation­al Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Math­e­mat­ics (NCTM) and the Asso­ci­a­tion of Super­vi­sion and Cur­ricu­lum Devel­op­ment (ASCD), to name a few, are incred­i­bly valu­able resources. 

#8. Expect to Be Overwhelmed

Rose-col­ored glass­es don’t make an attrac­tive fash­ion acces­so­ry for edu­ca­tors. The real­i­ty of this chal­leng­ing career is that it is and might always be over­whelm­ing. The teacher’s job is tough and it is not for the faint of heart. Despite this fact, the rewards most def­i­nite­ly out­weigh the demands (take extra notice of #9 and #10 to coun­ter­act #8)!

#9. Be Patient with Yourself

Patience is not the abil­i­ty to wait, but the abil­i­ty to keep a good atti­tude while wait­ing.” —Joyce Meyer

You and your craft are a work in progress. It will take time to learn the art and mag­ic of bal­anc­ing cur­ricu­lum, tech­nol­o­gy, class­room man­age­ment, assess­ments, and effec­tive teach­ing strate­gies. You’ll like­ly be your own tough­est crit­ic. Strive to find the bal­ance between main­tain­ing a sense of urgency and stop­ping long enough to appre­ci­ate the fun and humor that wig­gles its way into your class­room thanks to the mar­velous lit­tle peo­ple you will be spend­ing your days with.

#10. Find Joy Every Day 

Be HappyBe Hap­py! by Mon­i­ca Shee­han offers excel­lent sug­ges­tions for stay­ing focused on the sim­plest of things … make friends, dance, dream big, be brave, along with a trea­sure trove of oth­er ideas. Read this lit­tle gem on the first day of school, the last day of school and lots of days in between. It is a mas­ter­piece and might just be the blue­print for a tru­ly sat­is­fy­ing life for all human beings.

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