Closing Time

Because moving on is part of moving forward.

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Today was quite the day, you guys.


It was my last official day as an agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor for Niangua R-V High School. {And before you say anything like “shouldn’t you already be off for the summer and toes-deep in the sand on some beach somewhere sippin’ a pina colada?” please note that ag teachers are on a 12 month contract from July to June, which basically means we are running on auto-pilot 24/7, 365 days a year. We also drink our coffee very very very very black, eat drive-thru’s on the daily, and have mastered the art of sleeping with our eyes open. True story. }

So June is already here and gone. This morning I took my last hour-long drive through all those hills, curves, and miles of countryside that I’ve come to know by heart – as they have carried me in their arms this entire year, pumping me up for my mornings and winding me down at the end of another long day. I threw away the last poster from my wall, peeled sticky tack off my bulletin boards, and cleaned the rest of my highlighters and sticky notes and bobby pins and scented Germ-X out of my desk. I loaded boxes and boxes of all my lesson plans, family pictures, Hobby Lobby decorations, plaques, and my old FFA jacket in the back of my car. I unplugged my coffee pot and emptied the mini fridge that hid my jug of sweet tea when I needed an afternoon caffeine boost and all my chocolate for when I needed that little sugar rush while staying late grading papers. I hugged some co-workers goodbye…and may have also left sappy notes in their mailboxes.

{ Yeah buddy, I’m THAT girl. }

I watered the greenhouse and swept my shop floor one final time. I turned in my keys for the new teacher coming along and took my name tag off my door. And I sat one more time in my squeaky chair and stared at all those empty desks that not too long ago were full of the students that became “my kids” this past year.

Right here in this little room that was home for so many of us who desperately needed it.

We did a lot of learning and growing in this tiny classroom. We lived, we loved, and we laughed.

Also, we killed LOTSSSS of spiders.

We had heart-to-hearts before the morning tardy bell sounded and deep life discussions before the last bell of the day rang. A lot of “your mom” jokes were fired {okay, so I’m not the most “politically correct” teacher there ever was…} and many General’s Orders for saying cuss words out loud were written. In this room I prayed in desperation, cursed in frustration, cried in defeat, smiled in proudness, and celebrated in triumph. In this room I sat in this very chair one year ago as a first year teacher – so fragile, like a paper airplane in a hurricane – thinking there was no way I’d survive it all.

But, here I am, still soaring.

Last year’s beginning is already today’s end…and I really can’t believe it.

And I won’t lie…I’m a little unsteady about what’s coming next for me as my identity will soon completely change from a high school ag teacher to a middle school math and science teacher.

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However, as this bittersweet conclusion to a beautiful journey I’ve experienced this past year has officially drawn to an end, I know it’s now the start of a new and exciting chapter in my life story. And for that, I am happy.

I am really, genuinely happy.

In a month I will hang different posters in my new classroom and decorate new bulletin boards. My pictures and plaques and little personal touches will be unboxed again, a million new nail holes will plaster the walls, and new students will soon come rushing through my door. My Pinterest Lesson Plan board will slowly evolve from “parts of a cow” and “welding tips” to all things osmosis, phases of the moon, solving inequalities, and the Pythagorean Theorem. I will exchange all those red staff polos and Cardinal’s T-Shirts in the back of my closet with purple and gold ones that say “Hermitage Hornets” on them. I will make new memories, befriend new co-workers, experience new challenges, and achieve new and greater heights.

And above all I will keep learning and growing and loving all those kiddos on my new class roster, even if I do roast them with a “your mom” joke from time to time.

{Don’t worry, I DO know when there’s a time and place for it…** insert eye roll here**}

I know good things are ahead for this girl, although some amazing memories and that old weathered “Welcome to Niangua” sign will soon be in my rear-view for good. 

It’s hard, but it’s time.

It’s time to roll the windows down, crank those speakers, and let my hair fly in the breeze as I press on down this new road, because after all; moving on is part of moving forward.

And what a coincidence that the song jamming on my playlist this very moment by one of my all-time favorite 90’s bands just happens to be the perfect summary for it all.

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So, what more is there really left to say?

Except…

On to the next adventure.

 

Oh yeah, and I also need gas…

 

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The ABC’s of Successful Teaching: How to Survive Year One

Dear Almost First Year Teacher,

Are you ready? Are you prepared? Fasten your seatbelt because you are about to begin one of the wildest rides of your life: Year One of Teaching. (Dun, dun dunnnnnn…) *Insert doomsday music.

But don’t worry. To get you started I have compiled a list of tips and tricks that have personally helped me be successful in my educational experience so far – totally free of charge! These “Do’s” and “Don’ts” are little tidbits of wisdom that have been offered to me by many of my mentors who are coaching me as I am nearing the finish line of my first year as a high school teacher in rural Missouri.

(The end is in sight! I can see almost it!)

Your free informational “The ABC’s of Successful Teaching: How to Survive Year One” seminar begins in 3…2….1….

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A – Admit your mistakes. Sometimes you will hurt a student’s feelings unintentionally, say the wrong thing, totally teach a concept incorrectly, or drop the ball and forget to do a very important task. Show ownership for your wrongdoings, apologize when needed, fix it, and move on!

B – Be flexible. Thing won’t always go as planned. You’re going to have plenty of annoying situations that continuously challenge you to think outside the box. There will be fire drills. Interruptions. Announcements. Assemblies. Your PowerPoint presentation or internet is going to malfunction. You won’t get through a lesson in one day like you thought you would. You’re going to be asked to work a concession stand, be a class sponsor, or cover someone else’s classroom at the worst possible times. Get over it, get creative, and get through it.

C – Cry it out. Sometimes you have a terrible day. Vent to someone. Scream into a pillow. See a therapist. Eat an entire tub of ice cream. Do whatever you have to do to let it all out today so you can focus on making tomorrow better.

D – Don’t give up. Just when you think you are at the end of your rope and want to start applying for any other job than this, remind yourself of why you started this career in the first place and how hard you worked to get where you are.

E – Educate yourself, too. Despite the fact that you have a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree from a university, you DON’T know EVERYTHING. Seize every opportunity to better yourself and never stop learning new things. (And quit griping about professional development days! There is ALWAYS something to learn – even if it’s how to fall asleep without getting caught).

F – Find something positive about every day. You’re going to have bad days. You’re going to have to send a kid to the office, break up a fight in the lunchroom, deal with angry parents, get a bad evaluation from your principal, sleep through your alarm and wake up thirty minutes late, and totally botch that lesson plan. But you will also have those moments when you get everything accomplished for the day and get to go home at 3:30. A parent calls to praise you for your hard work. You get an award or recognition for a major accomplishment. A hard to reach student finally gets it. A former student comes back to thank you for the impact you made in their life. Dwell on these moments instead and let the bad times go.

G – GET HELP. This is SO important! You are going to have a million questions and face many situations too overwhelming to handle on your own. Reach out to a co-worker. A colleague. A board member. Your principal. An expert in your community. Other teachers in other schools. Never be afraid to ask for advice. Many people are out there to help you succeed, if you let them!

H – Hold your ground. This is YOUR classroom, and it will only operate how you choose to operate it. Set high expectations and follow through with clear consequences when those expectations are not met. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  Be firm and consistent – if you want your classroom management issues to be minimal and your students’ respect to be earned.

I – Include your parents, community, and administration on what’s going on in your classroom. Invite them to visit or observe when you are teaching something really fun and engaging. Send home newsletters. Create a classroom Facebook page. Use the Remind 101 App. Submit an article to the local newspaper. This is just good PR and will really showcase what you are doing with your students!

J – Just breathe. Stress is sure to come your way, but you WILL get through it! Just take it one day at a time.

K – Keep your head above the water. In Year One, it’s ALL about surviving! Most days you will just be a page or two ahead of your students – and that’s okay! Don’t let yourself drown in the Sea of Overwhelming. Be like Dory and just keep swimming!

L – Learn your students. Build those relationships from day one! Find out their favorite movie, their birthday, what sports and clubs they are involved in, where they work, and the name of their dog. Learn their strengths and areas they need to improve on so they can succeed in your classroom. Ask them what their goals are and what they want out of life – and coach them through this process. This not only helps you know how to help them, but it also helps you earn their respect because they know you care.

M – Make time. Don’t let your job come before your spouse, your kids, your family, your friends, or yourself. Go home when the last bell rings for the day. Go out on a date. Play with your kids. Take a personal day. Take a bubble bath. You have to have a healthy balance between work and your personal life, or this job will consume you.

N – Never put yourself in risky situations. You don’t ever want to be in a condition that could cost you your job or career. Keep your guard up, cover your back, report any issues to your superior, and make sure you always maintain a PROFESSIONAL – not PERSONAL –  relationship with your students. You never know what you might be falsely accused for, so make every effort to ensure this never happens!

O – Organize EVERYTHING. Your first year sometimes feels like you’re mostly re-inventing the wheel every day, but keep track of every single worksheet, test, rubric, and PowerPoint you make now so that next year you don’t have to!

P – Prioritize. Things are going to pop up unexpectedly and there are going to be many balls you are going to have to juggle. Learn how to separate urgencies and emergencies from things that can wait until later and create a plan of action of how you are going to deal with it all.

Q – Quit trying to be their best friends. Seriously, stop. You want them to respect you first then like you later.

R –Reflect, reflect, reflect. Take mental notes of things that work and things that don’t. This is the only way to improve your practice and make you a top-notch teacher!

S – Sleep. You cannot physically, mentally, and emotionally function at your best and keep up with everything if you are running low on the zzz’s. Learn to put the grading pen and papers down and go to bed!

T – Try new things. If you notice that something isn’t working quite the way you want it to, try a different approach! Never be afraid to open your mind to the unfamiliar and step out of your comfort zone.

U – Understand that it WILL get better. Seriously, we’ve all heard this a million times, so there has to be some truth to it. Every veteran teacher has preached and promised this at some point or another to all the newbies and the rookies entering the profession. This job never gets easier or less crazy, YOU just get BETTER with experience!

V – Vacation. Seriously, do it. Book a cruise. Lay on the beach. Ski down a mountain. Go camping and fishing. See Mount Rushmore. Do whatever you gotta’ do to escape and ENJOY LIFE so that you are energized and refreshed enough to tackle another school year.

W – Wine-up or whiskey-up. Enough said!

X – Expect to make mistakes. You aren’t always going to win the Teacher of the Year Award, so don’t get all worked up when you mess up. Learn and grow from what doesn’t work and keep mental track of what does! As Thomas Edison once said “I haven’t failed. I’ve successfully discovered 1,000 ways NOT to make a lightbulb.”

Y – Yell less, communicate more. Spend most of your time clearly outlining your expectations and holding students accountable upfront so that you don’t have to raise your voice later.

Z – Zone out the negativity. Trust me, there is no scarier place on earth than the lunch table in the teacher’s work room. As a young, new teacher you are going to hear a lot of gossip, bad-mouthing, complaining, and unwanted “advice” coming from some pretty stressed-out and burned-out teachers who are fed up with school policies, other teachers, the principal, parents, and that kid who is always getting ISS or kicked out of school, et cetera, et cetera. Tune it out (respectively) as much as possible so that you can develop your OWN mentality and voice!

Hope you enjoyed this free informational segment and have gained some helpful hints to put in your teacher toolbox and take straight into your own classroom your first year! Lastly, welcome to the profession and congratulations on embarking on one of the craziest yet most rewarding journeys you will every experience! Take it all in and learn as much as you can, because Year One goes by fast and you WILL survive it! After all, I’m still here to tell you about it!!

Sincerely,

Someone Who’s Been Where You Are and Has Made It (so far.)

XOXO

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Breathe, Pray, Begin.

“Kid, you just have to begin.”

These were the profound words spoken by my high school agriculture teacher this past summer when I asked him how I was ever going to survive my first year of teaching.

Holy toledo, I didn’t even know where to start.

It was June. We were standing in the middle of the barren classroom I had just been given the keys to about a week before when I signed on the dotted line and accepted my first teaching contract at Niangua R-V High School. I had invited Mr. Blair to come in and help me get settled in my new classroom and go over some important ag teacher details that I had no idea how to handle. How to fill out state reports and enhancement grants. How to register kids for summer fairs, camps, and conferences. How to set the irrigation and thermostat in my greenhouse. How to use the metal band saw in my shop. How to order new supplies I would need for the upcoming year. I mean, I didn’t even know what a freaking purchase order form was, for goodness sake!

It was all so overwhelming.

I remember standing there paralyzed with fear, looking at the floor that had not yet been resurfaced, the white walls that had not yet been painted, the dust bunnies piled up in the corner, the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, and all those empty desks and chairs that would soon be not-so-empty.

I didn’t have a clue what disaster to tackle first. All I knew is I only had two months to get that place in tip-top shape before August 18 hit and my first round of students came rolling through the door.

Ready or not, it was coming. Fast.

Kind of like the past four years of college and the four years of high school before that. How did 8 years of my life just fly by and rip the rug right out from under me?

As much as I wanted to turn around right then and there, run (not walk) out of that classroom, jump in my car, speed all the way home an hour away, bury myself under my covers, eat a ton of chocolate, drink a lot of wine, and never look back, I knew he was right.

I just had to begin.

You know, I have been dealing with versions of self-doubt and fear all my life. Taking my first steps. Riding my bike without training wheels. Jumping off that diving board without my floaties. Texting that boy back who really liked me (and eventually married me). Taking the ACT that would depict whether or not I would get accepted into the university I always wanted to go to. Getting a bob after growing my hair out for years (oh yes, this was a dramatic event for sure). Finally starting that blog I always wanted to but never had the time or confidence to do – until now! I had survived all these events I thought were tragedies at the time I was experiencing them.

Fear has always been a familiar concept to me. But for some reason when it came to the career I had invested so much time, money, and tears to become qualified for it was even more terrifying than anything else I had ever known.

What if I hated it? What if my students hated me? What if I failed? And then they failed, too?

But – with the always honest and encouraging advice from one of the teachers that made the biggest impact in my life and reminded me exactly why I was standing in my own barren, dirty classroom that day – I breathed….I prayed….then I began.


I started cleaning. Organizing. Dusting. Sweeping. Peeling old sticky tack off the walls. Decorating bulletin boards. Finding a fun bright color to paint for an accent wall. Making a chalkboard calendar for FFA events. Hanging bright yellow curtains and painting bookshelves blue. Adding my own personal touches on the walls like pictures, quotes, plaques, and my old FFA jacket. Before I knew it I had totally customized a space that once felt empty and lonesome and screamed “YOU’LL NEVER MAKE IT!” It truly was my home away from home – and not to mention, up to par with all the latest Pinterest trends! I was finally starting to feel comfortable and like I really could do this.

Then August 18 came.

When that first bell rang and my first class walked in the door with beady eyes, whispering “dude, who’s the new teacher?”, I froze. Which is ridiculous considering I had rehearsed this day – this moment – for weeks. No, literally, I had it almost completely scripted out word for word on sticky notes and steno pad paper because I’m that dorky.

But, I breathed…I prayed….then I began one of the most beautiful and frustrating journeys I have ever experienced to date.

Now here I am- January 12 2017 – over halfway done with Year One. Honestly I am not sure whether to high-five myself for surviving this long, laugh at all the times I thought I’d never make it this far, or kick my feet up and have a drink.

Perhaps I’ll do all three.

 Don’t get me wrong –  I still have many doubts and insecurities and there are days where I honestly think I could do any job other than this and be stressed less, home earlier, less reliant on messy buns, and a few pounds lighter from not eating so much fast food while I’m on the go. (Thank God for late night drive-thru Taco Bell, that’s all I’m sayin!) But when I think of how hard I have worked to get where I am now, I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

And no, I haven’t officially and completely survived Year One yet, but I do know this. I will tackle any upcoming obstacles and disasters – whether it be dust bunnies, cobwebs, endless paperwork, challenging students, late nights followed by early mornings, or stressful deadlines – the way I have been coached to do by one of my greatest mentors.

I will just breathe…pray…and begin.

Oh, and drink A LOT of coffee.

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