A large part of teaching is learning: from students, from parents, from colleagues, from yourself. As my first year of teaching, coaching, and grad school wind down, I realize just how much I have learned. Some of the more valuable bits I have learned stemmed from the relationships I formed this year, while some new knowledge was gained from making mistakes and having to change my approach. My 10 best lessons from this first year are as follows:
- Give people the chance to try.
Some days at practice, kids would be bombarding me with requests and questions. “I want to try hurdles!” “I think I want to play goalie!” “Can I be defense?” “Should I do high jump?” Rather than saying NO, I would give the kids the chance to earn their spots instead of handing them out with no rhyme or reason. Doing this gave the athletes a new confidence in themselves and let them have a safe place to test their limits. It also showed me some potential that I never would have known about if the kids hadn’t spoken up and I hadn’t let them exercise their options.
- You can’t please everyone.
With coaching, there were parents that would constantly have something to say about how practices were ran, how games were set up, or about anything else they could pick apart. I learned that people are going to have something to say no matter what, so as long as you are able to justify your choices and back yourself up, then do what you need to do and keep going.
- It’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
Sometimes students would walk up with a question that would be difficult to answer (once, they asked me the scientific name of a great white shark like I’m a shark expert???) so I would just start telling them, “I don’t know, but we can research the answer together.” I learned that this not only shows the students how to become a life-long learner and to enjoy learning, but to also give us some time together to learn something new.
- It’s okay to say “no.”
If you really can’t help someone or truly don’t want to do something, you’re allowed to say no – and there doesn’t need to be justification, either. There is nothing wrong with politely declining an invitation or request for your own sanity. Its better than over-extending yourself and becoming stressed over things that might be beyond your control. If saying no isn’t easy, it’s always an option to say “not this time” or “I have something else I’m working on now” as long as it is said with respect.
- Speed doesn’t mean efficiency.
This is something I learn right along side my students. My students used to read their warm-up words to me at light speed and I would always tell them “good reading is careful reading.” I generally work at a quick tempo when I check work or pass back papers or anything of the sort. Sometimes, students would approach me and tell me I made a mistake when checking their work, so I would go back and double check and – sure enough – I did make errors. Instead of being done, I had to find my answer key and recheck the work rather than just slowing down and checking their works correctly the first time. Simple mistakes wasted more of my time than working at a processable speed.
- Stop waiting for people to reach out.
People get busy, but that’s life. Instead of being petty like “well, phones work both ways,” just pick up your phone and send the text or make the call. It really feels nice to connect with people instead of isolating yourself. Whats more, it can make someone’s day when you unexpectedly check in on them and share some love. Life really is too short to wait on other people.
- Taking a break is good.
Occasionally, I have the mentality that once I start something, I need to do it all in one sitting. This year, I found that I can be so much more productive if I allow myself to walk away from what I’m doing and take 10 minutes to play on my phone or watch an episode of a show I’m binging and then get back to work. Instead of feeling like I have this massive mountain of an assignment that I need to conquer, I see it as small hills that I can stroll over and barely break a sweat.
- Embrace challenges.
Challenges are a part of life and there really is no way around it. When faced with something that seems impossible, run into it rather than away from it. The worst that will happen is that you fail, and if you do, that just means you have a second chance to start again (and who doesn’t love a do-over??). I know this seems sooo deep and thoughtful, but honestly, this year I was tasked with making a peacock by paper quilling and I had NO idea where to start since I had ZERO experience with paper quilling. I stuck with the challenge, recruited some help (shout out to the room parents and crafty students), and ultimately was able to craft a peacock that sold for $3,400 at our school’s live auction. Challenges can bring out the best in you, if you let them.
- Live in the present but remember your future.
I’m not too old, but this year, I found myself meeting with the financial advisor my school brought in to plan for my retirement which is still literally decades away. I decided I wanted to start saving for my future life (like a house, babies, a wedding, and 47 dogs), but wasn’t going to stop spending money altogether. If I want to go on a vacation, I will. If I want to buy new shoes, I will. If I want to eat out 3 times a day, I will. I won’t stop enjoying life as it happens, even if that means spending a little money here and there, but I will remember that one day I will thank myself for thinking so far ahead and putting even more money away.
- It will happen when it happens.
I love instant gratification, but this year I started to learn that not everything will happen right away, and I need to understand and accept that. Forcing things to happen is a surefire way to suck the fun out of everything. Just letting life flow to its rhythm and trusting that things will work out is the best still sometimes hard to do, but in the end, I know that what I want will happen and I just need to let it.
While these are some of the bigger lessons that stood out, there were numerous other little things I have learned and am grateful to know. Like I said, being a teacher means learning, and I think of myself as a life long learner, so it only makes sense that I want to keep embracing knowledge that comes my way. As the saying goes, you learn something new every day.