If At First You Don’t Succeed

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If At First You Don’t Succeed…

So after just three days of having students, I realized something that although I have said, sometimes it is easy to forget.  As adults, educators, and role models, we never get to stop learning!
Over the past few years I grown both more accomplished, and more confident as a classroom teacher.  So much so, in fact, that I have often stated that I can fix any behavior problem, teach any student, and that there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome.  I have lived that mantra and proved myself at least somewhat capable of it in the past.  But after just the first day of school, I scratched my head a few times.  I had two choices, go get a drink or take a nice long relaxing walk.  We have most likely all had a day like this as an educator, but rarely have I experienced such a frustrating day on the first day.  To top it all off, I had the good fortune of having my student teacher soak in the experience!  I learned some valuable lessons by the next morning, and I went back to work refreshed and ready to try again.
Each of my three days has gotten better, leaving me much more hopeful for the year to come.  But  I wanted to share some things I realized in those three days that will make me, my student teacher, and hopefully others, a better teacher.
The First Day of school is slightly terrifying – There are few moments more exciting, exhilarating, and ultimately terrifying than that first moment when you close the door behind your brand new class, look out among the new faces, and realize that for the next 7 hours, these kids are yours and what will happen to them in the next year, and for many of them the rest of their lives will largely be impacted by the decisions you make and the things you can accomplish.  I can only imagine it being something like the lead walking into a one man show on the stage on Broadway for opening night, only the audience is smaller and they don’t always want to be there.  15 minutes into my “performance” I realized two things, first this year is going to provide a fresh set of challenges (which is in honesty a good thing in many ways) and second, I had failed to introduce the students in my room to the student teacher!  I was so zoned into my “performance” that I neglected something I should have prioritized!  It won’t be the last time I do not get to everything I had planned but I need to say that in the combination of excitement and terror, I overlooked something important.  In my zest for establishing the class as an amazing place for students to learn, I failed to hit an important point.  My biggest learning point from the first 15 minutes of my day, is that no matter how prepared you are, you need to accept that you will never do everything you wanted.  Instead, you must create and prioritize the important goals you have for the day, and get them in accordingly.  On the other hand, it is NEVER TOO LATE to teach something that you feel is important!
Sometimes you need to have other people remind you of things you already know – This happens to us all the time.  I was spoiled in the past four years that many of my challenges in the classroom were centered around overcoming either behavioral or academic issues, but rarely both.  When being faced with new challenges, we as teachers sometimes forget that many of the tricks, tools, and strategies we need can be retread and combined with new research to come up with great ideas.  In my classroom, I have a huge binder that I helped to develop during a PLT.  In the binder, we included tracking pages, strategies, resources and more.  Not one time in these three days have I opened that binder and looked for resources.  It took some advice from another educator to remind me that some of the things I needed to get started were right there in on the shelf in my classroom!
Solving a problem comes from having the right attitude, being willing to try, and being open to ideas from anywhere-  No teacher, administrator, or educator, should be so foolish to believe that they cannot get help from others.  With any problem, we ought to be open to finding solutions wherever they may be.  We must continue to try!  The alternative to trying to fix a problem, is giving up on your students.  While it is acceptable to be frustrated, disheartened, or even angry about something during your day, you must always step back, take a deep breathe and try again!  No teacher can ever give up on a problem, so therefore we must continue to try and try again in as many different ways as it takes.  If nothing else, you have helped to eliminate all the bad ideas for the next teacher that inherits those students that need your help.  Finally, and perhaps the most important, is to have the right attitude.  When I left on the first day, I didn’t feel great.  I was disappointed, more so with myself than the class.  By the next morning I was back to my hopeful self, trying again as it were.  The things that were not working on day 1, were better on day 2, but by the end of the day, I was still frustrated.  I had failed to get across many of the lessons I had hoped to impress on the students and again my time disappeared before my eyes.  On Friday morning, I came back, refreshed and ready to try again.  Finally, it seemed like I was getting there.  The morning went better than I could have hoped.  I would love to say the day was perfect, but lets face it, it was not!  Instead, it was just good.
Celebrate small victories– In three short days, upon reflection, I realized that despite my lofty expectations not being met, the week had produced a number of great outcomes.  When I left that day, I told my student teacher to celebrate a little this weekend, she had made it through the first week and things were looking better each day.  What I did not think about, was that I myself should celebrate the same.  Things are looking up and we made it through this first week having accomplished a lot!
New challenges make us better –  I always say that I do not envy those teachers who repeat the same subject, same lesson each day for the entire year.  This week I was reminded of a valuable lesson I learned a long time ago: no two classes are the same, so no matter how great a lesson was the first time, the next time, it will need to be different.  Those teachers that teach the “same thing” over and over, really are faced with new challenges each period rather than each day. Regardless, these new challenges provide us with opportunities to increase our knowledge, test our skills, empower us with positive attitudes, and find the best within ourselves.
Surround yourself with the right people – This is not just me!  In this week I have had this discussion with several other people, each one of us at some point needing another person’s positive attitude to help us reframe our thinking and regain the right frame of mind.  There is no shame in needing a bump back onto the path every once in a while, and having those people around you will be a great step in that direction!
 Finally: When you can laugh or cry… make sure that no matter which you do first, you finish with the laugh!  While my students and coursework have provided me with some very frustrating moments this week (many of which are of my own accord) they have also provided me with lots of positives and some of the most lighthearted and enjoyable situations I have had in months!
I will leave you with this little gem from my room:  (We are decorating with mustaches, a first grade favorite, and each child is taking a picture with a fake stache…)
Student Teacher: Move over there and hold your mustache up for the picture
Student: Up here?  Look now its a unibrow!

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to laugh!

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