There are some things you only understand if you’ve been in the classroom a long time. Veteran teachers, are you with me?
1. Exactly how long five minutes is without a timer.
Veteran teachers develop these bizarre, highly accurate inner timers without counting down in their mind. If there were a casino game in Vegas for estimating increments of time between 5 and 90 minutes while distracted by various tasks, teachers would clean HOUSE.
2. It’s okay when kids cry.
When I was a first year teacher, I remember that it would completely undo me if I made a seventh grader cry, even if the tears were from, say, me calling the assistant principal when said seventh grader threw a desk halfway across the room. Nowadays, I know how to provide the appropriate response to a crying child without taking their crying as a reflection of me as a person. This brings me to my next point:
3. The behavior of others is not indicative of your value.
Whether it’s ugly words from a student in the heat of the moment, harassing emails from a parent, dismissive or devaluing treatment from an administrator, or idiotic comparisons drawn by public leaders, veteran teachers know their worth (and they know that it doesn’t come from the opinions of the less-informed).
4. What the posture of in-class texters looks like.
Shoulders hunched, arms folded in toward crotch, eyes down. Boom. Roasted.
5. Very, very, very few things are as big of an emergency as they seem.
When I get stressed out about my ever-growing to-do list for school, I ask myself three questions: Is someone bleeding? Will I ruin a child’s future or integral learning experience if I can’t get to this right away? Will my job security be threatened? If the answer is no to all three questions, it’s going to be OK.
6. Nobody (or almost nobody) reads your lesson plans.
Exceptions: co-teachers, in-class support teachers, if you’re a brand new teacher, and the rare school in which an administrator will have a workload low enough (or a God complex serious enough) to make reading your lesson plans a regular priority.
7. Pretending you know what you’re doing is nearly as effective as actually knowing what you’re doing.
I remember when I was student teaching turning to my supervisor at some point, shrugging, and telling her out loud, in front of children, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Later she told me, “Oh, earlier when you told me you had no idea what you’re doing? Never say that again, even if it’s true.” She paused for a second, then said in a lower voice, almost ominously, “Never let them know.”
8. Relationships are everything in teaching.
Everything—instruction, classroom management, parent communication—is easier when solid relationships are there. It took me years to realize that my “tough” classes stayed difficult throughout the year because they could sense that I thought they were my tougher classes, even if I swore up and down (even in my own mind) that I treated them the same.
9. Fairness isn’t treating everyone exactly the same.
It’s giving each person what they* need to be successful. I once heard this referred to in a training as “responsive consistency.” I liked it so much I wrote the term down on a Post-It note that I lost almost immediately, but I think “responsive consistency” is pretty close.
10. The satisfaction of bringing a bag of work home over a holiday break.
Even though you and anyone who shares your home knows full well it will remain untouched.
11. A school is only as good as its administrator.
I wish more administrators knew this, and I wish fewer teachers felt guilt about “leaving their students” when they have to step out of toxic environments. Teachers don’t leave schools; they leave bosses.
12. It gets easier, but it also doesn’t.
Yes, many things about teaching get easier as you go along. But is it ever entirely predictable? Is it ever the same year after year? Is it ever not exhausting? Ask these questions to any veteran teacher. It’ll give them a good laugh.
*I used “they” as a singular pronoun because 1. I had an antecedent of indeterminate gender, 2. “he/she” has always sounded eye-rollingly pedantic to me, especially for this format, and 3. If it was good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. This has been “I Used a Singular ‘They’ and That’s Okay” by Love, Teach.