Monday, January 17, 2011

Things You Learn After a Few Years of Teaching

From what I've read of this blog so far, it looks like a predominantly younger audience; since I'm not part of the “younger” crowd in the business anymore, and have been asked by them to chime in here; I guess I can try to bestow some of the things I've picked up on over the last nine years of teaching.  I'm not one to take myself too seriously (I cut part of my own finger off for crying out loud, so how could I?), and I don't necessarily expect too many people that read this to either, however I think you can get some piece of mind from a few lessons I learned as a “beginning teacher”.  So here goes...

Life's Knowledge #1: If there is one piece of advice I would give for you at this point in your career, I would say that the most important thing for you to do right now is: LEAVE WORK AT WORK, don't bring it home with you.  Now, of course there'll be times when you have to bring it home; papers need graded, tests need written, supplies need to be ordered, I could go on and on about the things that you bring home with you because there are only so many hours in a day.  But that's not what I'm talking about. 

This is a very hectic job at first, you have a million things coming at you at once (which I'll address later) and it's pretty easy to get a little overwhelmed very quickly.  When that happens it has a tendency to build up to a boiling point, and then the pot boils over.  When the pot boils over, leave it at work.  Somehow, some way, you need to be able to train yourself to get that out of your mind and come home to enjoy your time away.  This job can make your personal life a living nightmare if you let it, so don't let it.  It's helpful to have an “escape” from your reality, if only for a little while.  I was lucky, I lived on a dairy farm where I could go out and help chore and forget about the fact that I had tests to grade, contest practices to get ready for, and an FFA Banquet all within 5 days of each other.  Whatever it might be for you, you need to identify it early to help keep your sanity.

Life's Knowledge #2: FIND OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WELL AND FOCUS ON THAT AT FIRST. There are so many things that go along with our jobs that it's nearly impossible to do it all. Most of us that enter into this profession came from pretty solid programs, and I think by nature teachers of Agriculture want to do it all because we are highly motivated individuals; but it won't always work that way.

My advice would be to figure out what's important for your program right now, and make sure you are successful in that first.  Of course, finding out what “successful” is will depend on you.  If you go into every contest with the idea that you have to win every one, then my guess would be that you won't enjoy this job as much as you could.  If Dairy Judging is important to your community, focus on it.  I teach in extreme Northwest Ohio, we don't participate in the Forestry CDE because we have about 25 trees in our entire district.  Not only is that particular contest not that important to our community, I'm not sure my students even know that CDE exists because, here again, you can't do it all.

Life Knowledge #3: CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES.  Not everyone is going to like you, get used to that.  Confrontation can be a good thing, it lets people see you're not a push-over.  I didn't get into this profession to make a bunch of friends out of my constituents, and I'm assuming you didn't either.  You're never going to please everyone anyway, so there's no need in starting out trying to.  When you're confronted with a situation where you need to dig your heels in and stand your ground, you'll know.  Some fights just aren't worth fighting, especially when you have parents whose “perfect little angels” you've done a terrible injustice to in “giving” them a B in your class, even when it still might have been their highest grade on the report card (can you tell that this is one of those I've fought?).  In short, don't sweat the small stuff.  Don't worry about how things used to be done, it's your program now (if you're a single-teacher program anyway) and people can either get behind you or get out of your way to let you do your job.  Some people won't like it, and they don't have to either.

Life's Knowledge #4: LEARN HOW TO SAY NO!  Colleagues, parents, administrators, board members, and community members all have seem to have mastered the art of assuming you will do anything for them.  In this case, our talent is a curse.  There aren't many teachers in the building that have the same skill set that we do, so people think they can take advantage of you and have you do them a “favor” because they don't want to pay someone else to do it for them.  The plate of an Ag Teacher is only so big and will only hold so many things, it's up to you to decide what you want to load your plate with; just don't feel obligated.  Especially with administrators and board members; just because you may work for them, they don't own you. Sometimes you have to do what is best for you, and let them deal with it on their own.

And lastly, if you take nothing else from the gibberish above; get involved with our profession.  That doesn't mean that you have to become an OAAE officer or member of delegate council, just try to take advantage of the many opportunities that are out there.  Have your kids fill out awards, go to the evaluations (especially State, if you can get your district to send you now), go to the district meetings, take kids to camp, the list can go on and on.  Just like what we tell our kids with the FFA: you're only going to get out, what you put in.

Anyway, hopefully some of my ramblings made at least a little sense to you.  These are the kinds of things that I wish someone would have told me when I entered the profession in the Fall of 2001.  I'll be the first person to tell you that I didn't have much of a positive experience my first 2 ½ years of teaching.  But I stuck with it, and the next 2 years of my career were some of the best years of my life.  We have special relationships with our students that I wouldn't trade for anything.  In the last 2 years I've been paid some of the best compliments that I could ever get:  one of my very first students is now sitting at the desk where I used to teach her, and another asked me to be part of her wedding ceremony in October.  Those are the kinds of things that keep you coming back.

I guess my hope is that any young teacher who reads this will find a little comfort in the fact that EVERYONE in this job goes through a lot of the same kinds of things in the first year or so.  The trick is to not let it get to you too much, and that you come back to work smiling the next day, for hopefully the next 30-35 years.

God Bless.

Post written by Ryan Sell

1 comment:

  1. Thank you.

    I'm a first year teacher that came into one of the top 3 programs in Michigan. The previous teacher was here for 22+ years and the expectations here are huge. Now that contest practices are in full swing and the semester is coming to a close, I'm stressed to the max and extremely thankful for the very few days of the week that are less than 12 hour workdays.

    I needed this.

    Thanks again,