Yes, pictured above is me in my student teaching classroom – wearing an outfit that says “I have no clue how to adult”. But today when I came across this photo, not long after being asked to speak to some Student Teachers that are spending their spring preparing to land jobs next fall, I wondered what advice I could offer.
I love when I read blogs and Instagram posts that ask teachers to serve up some wisdom to those starting out and I see things like “avoid taking home too much grading”, and “here’s when to use assigned seats”. I love hearing tips and tricks that are concrete and refine the trade of teaching.
As I thought about the things I hadn’t been told – I couldn’t help but remember the things that I had been told by mentors that I didn’t love. “Learn when to say no, or they’ll never stop pushing” – “The budget probably isn’t there so don’t bother asking” – “You’re new, you should be the first one in the building and the last one out” – “Don’t smile until November”- I could continue.
These pieces of advice bothered me at an ideological level. But it was because these were things I wanted to change, not accept, and the people shoveling some of this “there’s nothing you can do”
Don’t get me wrong, I have had great mentors in my hallway – with the best ideas, lessons to steal, and shoulders to lean on, and well I’ve had some not so great ones too. And that’s when it occurred to me – the advice that no one ever told me – and that most people don’t mention about entering the adult workforce.
The first time I went away to sleep away camp I met a friend that I loved literally on the ride there. We agreed to bunk together, eat lunch together, and I couldn’t get over how well we got along – for the first twenty-four hours. When I called my mom to complain on the twenty-fifth, she said: “Lauren, sometimes your first-friend is your worst-friend”. Now that may be dramatic in some respects – but as I’ve aged I’ve remembered that what Mom really meant was be careful and cautious – even slow – with picking your friends.
Later in life I transformed mom’s words as I’d council kids before and after school or talk to my class as a whole I would reference the adage “You are the sum of your five closest friends” and I believe that whole-heartedly. Don’t like the direction you’re going? Want more for your life, your interests, your hobbies? I dare you to examine the five people you choose to spend the most time with – and tell me what they say about you. I’m not telling you to be a fairweather friend – but I am saying – think about it. Good and Hard.
Here’s what that adage means to your success within the classroom as a teacher. The people you surround yourself with as a support system of teacher friends – they indicate what you’re going to do, where you’re going to go, and ultimately how you’re going to feel about your job. As someone who changed schools recently, I’ve been trying to make better choices in surrounding myself with peers in the workplace with similar goals and hopes for their careers but also in disposition. Want to get a snapshot of you five years from now in the faculty meeting? Look around at who you sit with.
People who are unhappy, unmotivated, and unintrigued by children are not your friends in the workplace.
Not only is it exhausting to prep, plan, manage, present, and grade content as a teacher but it is extra exhausting to do so with Sandra in the back preaching about the reasons why “X Y and Z” of my Whatever-Unit are “Pointless with this Place”. The issue is – in many schools – our pot to pick from for Cheerleading-Championing Teacher Besties feels small – or maybe we are so late in the game to this decision that we’ve burned some bridges or limited our professional networking options. Thank God for Social Media (I’m probably the first person to say that in a while).
But really, I cannot urge the future teachers of tomorrow to do anything more than find a teacher idol on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and just jump along for the ride. Or find a #PLC to converse with, grow with, and learn with. I have visited @writeonwithmissg ‘s profile nine-million times since I became a teacher, and I’m pretty sure I’ve even fan-girl messaged her before too. Her lessons have given me ideas, her struggles have made me feel un-alone, and her successes have made me comment “YASSS” 🤦🏻♀️.
Even when I had people down the hall from me that I could indeed lean on, having a virtual learning community has allowed me to grow and see the perspective I so badly need sometimes.
So my advice – to teachers young, old, experienced, inexperienced, is to find a group, a community of those learning with you. Find those people that aren’t afraid to try new things, share resources, and cry over coffee when your day has just been the worst (even if it’s a coffee emoji). Because you don’t need a Sandra in the back, you need someone by your side.