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As a new crop of teachers are slowly being introduced via email by my principal, I thought about what I was told in college about what to do as a new teacher. And then I thought about how horrible some of that advice was. So here is my top ten of new teacher myths – feel free to add more, I know they are out there!
Myth 1: Children are only learning when they are quiet and focused on the teacher.
Reality: So we all know this one isn’t true, right? Well, maybe not at first. I thought if students were too noisy they couldn’t hear the most important person; me. Come to find out that often it is through these “disruptive” student conversations that deeper learning takes place. So of course you must talk, but be brief and get to the point; simply put, get out of the way of the learning.
Myth 2: As a new teacher, you should never send a student to the principal’s office. because it shows weakness.
Reality: Your principal is your liaison so use them if needed, trust me, they do not keep a tally of which teacher sends more students to their office (I hope). Realize though, that when you do send a student to the office, the outcome of the situation is no longer your choice, so if you want to have a hand in it, then engage the principal in a conversation with the student, rather than just a referral to the office. My first year I had a very temperamental student that scared the other children, when things got heated both of us needed a moment to breathe and gather our emotions; the principal helped us with that.
Myth 3: Never ask for help but if you must, do so in private.
Reality: Always ask for help, big or small! My first year, I was so petrified that people would think my hiring was a mistake because I did not have all the answers. Well, guess what? No one has all the answers and hopefully they never will. When you approach someone and ask for help you are showing trust and through trust you build community. And that sense of community can carry you through many years of teaching.
Myth 4: Listen, but do not talk, during staff meetings.
Reality: I am a perpetually hand raiser, there, I admit it. And I am also one of those people that always has an opinion. While I don’t recommend turning staff meetings into your one-person show, if you have a question or god forbid, an opinion, then share it. You might be surprised the discussion that ensues because of something you said. Successful staff meetings rely on discussion so become a partner in that, not just a fly on the wall.
Myth 5: Take a break from school/professional development your first year since you will be so busy.
Reality: I know college is hard, I worked all the way through while going to school full-time, it was tough! And the first year of teaching is even tougher but that does not mean you should stop learning. Check out what professional development your district offers or better yet create a PLN so that whenever you have time you can be engaged in conversation with educators from all over the world. Model for your students what a true lifelong learner looks like by becoming one yourself.
Myth 6: Show up at all extracurriculur activities your students participate in.
Reality: I know students love to see us outside of school and I love to see my students as well but it is okay to say no once in a while. Between piano recitals, dance performances, football games and basketball events, my first year I hardly ever saw my husband, my family, or my friends. I was so busy seeing everybody else, even though I already saw the kids in school all day. So pick a couple of events; I always go to whatever my school puts on and see almost all of my kids in one swoop. Besides, if you pick one student’s event then you have to go to as many as possible and that can be exhausting if you have 27 students. So yes, they love to see you out in the real world but don’t forget to keep your own life, after all, that’s what makes you interesting!
Myth 7: Work through your breaks to show you are serious.
Reality: There is nothing more serious than a first year teacher, always rushing about, eating lunch in the hallway while helping their students with that extra bit of work. I did it, and I still do it, but give up your breaks in moderation. Going to the teacher’s lounge may seem like a silly event but it is where I have had some of my most meaningful conversations and also developed actual friendships with other teachers. I always have frequent flyers, kids that do not turn in their homework so they want to stay in and do it during recess with you. Imagine the shock on their face if you tell them, “No, today that is not an option.” It might even help them realize that homework is work we do at home. And who says teachers don’t also need a break once in a while?
Myth 8: Don’t try too many new things.
Reality: I am an idea person. I see inspiration in random places and get so excited to do/share/tell them that I am about to burst. Yet I was told repeatedly to not put too much on my plate, after all this was my first year of teaching. So I was bored and uninspiring. Busy, well sure, we all are but it wasn’t necessarily with stuff I wanted to be involved in. If you have dreams or crazy ideas, do it, get involved with the school and get others involved too.
Myth 9: Model/scaffold/show everything you will expect students to do.
Reality: I am not against modeling, scaffolding or showing, but have found that often students like a challenge. So instead of showing them the whole process, tell them the goal, give them a beginning and let them discover. Learning is after all a long journey into discovery.
Myth 10: You must be/act happy at all times or go in there an earn an Oscar.
Reality: Students respond to human beings, and in particular genuine human beings. While I do not recommend teaching in a foul mood it is okay to be mellow, as long as you explain why this is. The explanation, of course, depends on the grade level you teach. So if you are having a sad day or you are really excited about something – share it! This is how meaningful connections are made because you show them that you care enough to trust them with your real life. Maybe they will trust you then too.