Well my first year of teaching and working in Special Education has come to an end and I want to summarize my experience in the ring. Currently, I am writing a mere 100 yards from the ocean in Salvo, NC as my vacation comes to an end; I cannot image a better way to conclude a great first year. As I have been away and relaxing, I have been mulling over my experience in an effort to elucidate the lessons I am to learn and apply to make next year even better.
The last month of the school year was hectic and full of uncertainty for where I would be in 3 months time. The end of the year is always marked by a mad dash to summarize reports, grade final projects, finish course material, and complete the necessary in-service days before the end of the school year. This makes for a rapid end that flies by in such a manner that one could easily overlook all the lessons one is to take from the year. When one is glad that the race has ended and a time of repose has begun, the last thing on the summer list is to learn from the success and failures of the previous year.
Here are the top six things I can gather from my experiences and put forth for you and I to learn from.
- The power of saying NO and the power of saying YES. There were many things I should have said NO to this year. However, in my desire to be the best coworker I could be, there were a lot of things I said YES to and the result was a schedule gorged with work and starving for leisure. I should have listened earlier in the year to my former 5th & 6th grade teacher (now coworker) when she explained why I needed to be careful what I took on to prevent burnout. Though I did not burn out, there were times I was very close. (As the year progressed, I did learn to be comfortable saying NO) That being said, there is also great value in saying YES. There were times when I would fill in during a spare hour to fill the gap for a teacher with an emergency or a sub who was running late. Being flexible and being able to fill in the gap aids in creating a mutual environment of support and care; I will always help my coworkers to the best of my capabilities and opportunities.
- When dealing with students who are more literal than normal (i.e. does not understand metaphors, colloquialisms, etc.), choose your words very carefully. If you do not, you will be misinterpreted, parents will be upset, meetings will follow, and you get the picture.
- Avoid the temptation of taking work home with you. I did this way too much at the beginning of the year. While I am single and do not have pets and taking work home is not as much of an issue now, it is certainly not a habit I want to establish before I am married and have a family of my own. I learned that I would be most productive with certain tasks at the beginning of the day as opposed to putting them off to the end of the day. Accordingly, it was easier for me to arrive early to work (6-6:30 range) rather than to stay after school; after a day of intense individual Discovery Therapy, one does not have much energy left.
- Relationship enforces discipline. I found that it was futile to issue discipline if I did not have a relationship or rapport with the student. Without the common ground, discipline is viewed as capricious and as though the teacher has it out for the student, instead of being an instance where the teacher can help form students and aid them in understanding correct conduct. This manifest itself most evidently in my duty as cafeteria monitor for the high school. Since only 1% of the high school actually had me as a teacher, the only context the other 99% of the students knew me was in the cafeteria as the guy who made them clean up. Accordingly, meaningful discipline was near impossible. I am still trying to determine how that scenario can be remedied.
- Keeping track of communication is key in education. A log of when parents are emailed and why is a life saver sometimes. It also allows you to determine if you are communicating too much or not enough.
- Something that worked well this year was to include my boss on every important email; I learned this trick from my father. Though not every email would require any action on her part, it allowed her to keep a pulse on what was going on in the department and how parents/students were being handled. Further, if a situation were to come up, she already knew about the previous track of communication and was not blindsided. This is one practice that will stay in my quiver.
From the desk,