A few days ago I had to take my children to their respective schools to pick up their personal belongings because school is closed for the rest of the year. I cried all the way home.
I was sad for a number of reasons, but a big cause of my tears was the all-consuming thought that I wouldn’t be a good enough replacement for my children’s teachers over the next few weeks.
This response may be a little surprising as I’m a professional educator. I was a classroom teacher for many years, and now I work as an instructional mentor. In this role, I have the honor of coaching early career teachers. I get to spend my days in their classrooms watching them in action, learning together, and growing their effectiveness.
I wondered why I was feeling so insecure. Then I thought about my early career teachers, how often they doubt themselves and the work they do. One of the best parts of my job is reminding them that though the work is hard, they are fit for the challenge.
Right now, many of us are being asked to teach our children with the assistance of district-provided continuous learning plans. During a pandemic. While we are avoiding unnecessary social interaction. As we work from home and try to secure proper amounts of toilet paper and canned chicken. It’s a lot.
And you, like me, may feel unfit for the job.
So I’m going to share with you some tricks of the trade. Some words of encouragement. Things teachers have to say to themselves and hear from others often to remember that they can do the hard work that teaching demands of them.
You are doing better than you think!
This is the number one thing I say to my early career teachers. They tend to focus on their areas of weakness and on the things they didn’t do well in the lesson or all they wish they had accomplished that didn’t get done. Yet, as an outside observer, I see their greatness. I see how hard they planned the day before to prepare their lessons, I watch them comfort a frustrated student, and I notice the look on their student’s face when they are greeted by their beloved teacher.
You are doing something really hard, teaching your children during a pandemic. You, like my new teachers, are probably focusing too much on the negative. Instead of celebrating how much you have accomplished, you are thinking about all you aren’t getting done. If I had the power to observe your home classroom, I know I would see great things you might be missing.
You are doing better than you think, I promise!
Management is Teaching
One of the biggest surprises to the early career teacher is how much time it takes to set up and maintain a well-managed classroom. In my first years, I remember spending hours planning lessons, decorating my classroom, and making sure all of my supplies were in order. Only to be completely blown away by how much my students acted out while I was delivering my perfectly planned and organized content.
Management comes first. Teachers have to put structures in place to teach students how they will ask for help, work independently, access their supplies, and express frustration. Just to name a few.
So if you feel like you are spending all of your time reminding your kids to focus, or to stay in their chair while they are doing school, you’re not alone. Sure, your school district may be supplying the content, but you are doing the management. Management is teaching, and it’s really hard – even for career teachers.
You’re new at this. It’s ok to spend time practicing the behaviors and routines that will be expected of your kids while they do school at home before moving straight into the learning content.
Technology is a Blessing and a Curse
As fortunate as we are to have access to multiple devices, Zoom sessions, educational software, parent-teacher communication tools, and Google Classroom we can’t forget that each of these pieces of technology requires new learning, different passwords, and a level of support from a parent to get their kids set up.
This morning one of my kids couldn’t remember his log in number, at the same time another kid’s device wouldn’t play her Bookflix video with sound, the teen had no idea where her charger was, and my preschooler was in tears because he couldn’t get his favorite YouTube video to play on my phone.
I lost my temper, slammed shut some computer lids, and told everyone to head to their rooms for independent reading while I took a deep breath and cuddled my youngest.
So expect technology to fail, and expect frustration. Take a deep breath and try again, look for a workaround, or ask for help. My son’s teacher was happy to remind my son of his password via e-mail, and we learned that Bookflix works best on a different browser.
Your Breaks are Well Deserved
When my early career teachers leave for their school breaks, they always tell me all of the things they are going to get done. Grad school work, long-term planning, grading, and professional reading top their list of to-dos. They do many of these things on their breaks. Still, I remind them to also take an actual break. To truly relax and find something that recharges and renews them. By doing this, they come back to work with an improved mental state that helps them be a better teacher in the long term.
You need breaks too!
It’s OK to take a day away from guiding your children through their continuous learning plan. To miss a Zoom check-in. To focus completely on the many other things you are doing from home while your kids spend the day binging Netflix and eating peanut butter straight from the jar.
Whenever you have a chance to get a break, take it, and don’t feel guilty. Remember, you’ll come back feeling renewed and better able to tackle the hard work of teaching.
Love Grows Children
The best teachers in the world are the ones who care deeply about their students and work tirelessly to adapt and change to the needs of their individual students. They love what they do because they know who they are doing it for, their students.
Great teachers mess up, miscommunicate expectations, make mistakes, and need to ask for forgiveness. At the end of the day, however, their students feel safe and loved in their classrooms. This love grows children into life-long learners.
Guess what – you have this one covered! You already love your kids with your whole heart, and they know it too. Resting in that love will help them thrive in these unprecedented times.
I remind my early career teachers that as teachers, we are working in partnership with parents to provide the best educational experiences for our students.
Now, more than ever, we need parents. Right now, you are being called upon to do something really hard. You may think you’re doing it wrong, or that you’re not fit for the task, it’s not true.
I promise you are doing better than you think. You are doing a great job and your kids are thankful for your attention and sacrifice. I promise your kids are going to be just fine.
You matter. Keep up the great work.