In 1999, I began a quest to give back to my community. In no way did I have deep pockets to support any consistent financial donations and worked a 40(+) hour work week in corporate America; therefore, I had little to no extra time for volunteering. Limited resources led me to consider local weekend and evening programs that may provide opportunities for me to give back through the use of my skills and talents. And so, I started teaching dance.
Years of teaching dance to young girls ages 5-13 ignited my passion for working with youth. Soon, I was no longer working in corporate America. I was teaching life skills and independent studies in high schools throughout the Compton Unified School District. Although many questioned my decision to leave a steady job and good pay for teaching, I expected the end result would be mutually rewarding for my new students and I. Well, that first year was not what I expected. I struggled with the basics – getting to know my colleagues, disconnected from support and resources, and unprepared for anything out of the ordinary. I’d guess my students benefited mostly from my enthusiasm and continued efforts to get to know them and support them in their learning.
Eventually, I hit a stride before deciding that it was time to pursue my multiple subject credential. I wanted to get back to work with the young ones, yet I had no idea that making this shift would feel like I was starting over. Not only was I changing from teaching high school to elementary, but I was also moving into a new district. At the same time, I took on a part-time faculty position teaching at two different universities. With the new changes ahead, I was fortunate to have a teacher toolbox to take along that included a few reminders (or “Be”s as I call them) that may be worth sharing with new and not-so new teachers.
- Be willing to learn about your colleagues: Getting to know your students is essential; however, your peer-educators, office/support staff, and district personnel are also important people to know. Learning your colleagues does not mean you become besties, but you want to make keen observations to determine best strategies for working effectively with your colleagues. As you learn your colleagues, remember to also show appreciation to those who may reach out to support.
- Build your community of support (a.k.a. Personal Learning Network): Staying motivated and connected to your purpose requires connecting with like-minded professionals in the field of education. Keep in mind that it is easy to drift (and stay) on that isolated island that disconnects you from others who can provide the necessary support and encouragement to stay the course. Your motivation is essential to your ability to be the ultimate motivator of your students. So, remember that you are the builder of your support team. A thoughtfully constructed community of support will include your most honest cheerleaders. Additionally, this community will hold you accountable to your purpose for teaching and hopefully support your personal pursuit of future learning opportunities.
- Be ready for the unexpected: Ok, is this really possible? No one is ever truly prepared for the unexpected, but you can accept that the unexpected will occur. Of course, this means that you should strive to remain flexible. For example, Stacy comes to class late and does not seem to be herself. You were planning to jump right into your station rotations, when you notice her demeanor. Take a moment and chat with Stacy – maybe she missed breakfast or just needed to know someone cares today. A few minutes of your time with her may make the biggest difference in her day (as well as that of her classmates).
- Be prepared and take a seat at the table: When the time is right, be prepared to speak up, and to step up in support of others (pay it forward). As a new teacher, you have a voice that should be heard. The title of new teacher should not imply that you are new at everything you do. We all bring a certain set of skills with us into the classroom. You may need some time to figure out how your skill set can best be used in a classroom setting. Or, you may know your strengths as you set foot in the door. In either case, remember number one on this list (learn your colleagues). What you know about your colleagues will help inform how and/or if the time is right to offer support, as you also determine where to sit at the table.