5 Important Life Lessons I’ve learned as a Teacher

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Last May, I stepped into a Special Education classroom as a first year teacher.  As an undergraduate, I’d had very successful placements and worked part-time as a substitute teacher starting my junior year of college.  However, after a rather traumatic student teaching experience, I decided that a general classroom wasn’t for me.

Then, I started subbing in a Special Education classroom the year after I graduated college. I was in that awkward post college transition year and being in that classroom was one of the best things that could’ve happened to me.  Flash forward 3 years and I became a Special Education Teacher.

The opportunity presented itself and I rose against self doubt which had been placed in me during student teaching and subbing.  My first year hasn’t been easy, but its been a transformational year and one that has brought me opportunities to change lives.  To me, that makes all the hard days worth it.

As I reflect on my first year (as summer moves along towards an upcoming year), 5 big lessons come to mind.

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Lesson #1: Your life is more important than a job.  It will not always be there nor give you a hug when you need it.

Often I was told, after deciding to become a teacher, it would be a lot of work.  I was used to working, but I also knew the importance of a healthy life/work balance.  Student Teaching had stripped my life away and I vowed to never do it again.  Granted, some of the last year has been crazy and required weekends, but if I have to choose a day with family or finishing a lesson plan, the lesson plan can wait (isn’t that what sub plans are for??)

 

Lesson #2: Haters gonna hate

Most people can think of someone at work who seems to thrive on negativity or belittling other people.  I’m sorry to say, my school has more than a few individuals like that.  Truthfully, you have to look at the people doing it as people and remember it’s a reflection of them, not you.  As terrible as it seemed at the time, they really toughened me up and helped me to stand up for myself a little more.  So thanks haters for making me a better person!

 

Lesson #3:  Stepping outside your comfort zone

I talk to my students parents on a daily to weekly basis.  When I first had to start, it was hard partly because I’m introverted and suck at phone calls.  The other part, it was new and I wanted to do my best (hello anxiety).  Now, I can call a parent without feeling anxious, conduct big scale meetings and my articulation (which is quite good) has gotten even better.

This is just one example.  There are many ways you step outside of your comfort zone and grow as a teacher.  Regardless of whether you have a good or bad experience as a teacher, you will walk away a better person.

 

Lesson #4:  You will dramatically change someones life for the better

This year I had a student who we’ll call Axel.  I work in a private school that is an alternative/private school.  He was ready to go back, but some people fought me on it.  I didn’t back down and said he was ready.  Guess what, I was right!  He’s grown so much more than I could do given my resources and I often think of him.  I’m glad I became a teacher if only to see him succeed and go further than what others thought he could.  Of course, the same could be said for many of my students.  I love them all.

 

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I could add hundreds of lessons I’ve learned as a teacher, but those four stand out because they’re the lessons I didn’t expect to learn.  While I don’t plan on being a teacher long-term, the experiences I’ve had and students I’ve had will last me a lifetime.  Good or bad, I don’t regret a second of it.

 

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Weekend Thoughts on lost skills

 

As early as Middle School, the push to determine what you want to do when you grow up becomes stronger. Already we are picking classes or electives based on our intention as Spanish, higher math classes, agriculture, art and other courses take on a new level of intensity.  In high school it becomes more pronounced as by electing to take AP classes as early as our sophomore year, we are preparing ourselves for college.  Admirably, the push isn’t as strong in the United States as it is in other countries.  In Japan, for instance, the push can begin as early as Preschool.

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I knew in middle school that I was going to go to college.  What for I wasn’t sure, but I knew that my education would continue for an indefinite amount of time.  Once high school started, I took courses that would transfer into college credits or prepare me for more advanced college courses.  Still, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, even once my senior year hit. Here’s a small sampling of careers I seriously considered;

  • Psychologist/counselor
  • Japanese Translator
  • Game designer
  • Web developer
  • Librarian
  • Teacher

If I were to go back and choose my career again (teacher), I would cross teaching off the list .  I’m an excellent teacher, based on my evaluations, student success and what have you, but it wasn’t the right choice.  Do I regret my experiences?  Of course not!  The lives I’ve changed and the changes I’ve had thanks to teaching I wouldn’t change.  Would I opt to change and see what another career could’ve been?  Absolutely.

Here I sit, in my late 20s, not in regret, but in renewed aspiration for something new.  I haven’t just been thinking, however.  Instead, I’ve been developing skills I have lost and gaining new ones.  It hasn’t been a passing fade as over the last three weeks I’ve focused myself to study outside of work and this is only the beginning.

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Japanese

One of the things I’ve been restudying is Japanese.  In high school I knew Hiragana, Katakana and some kanji like the back of my hand.  Almost ten years later, I still know quite a few, but some have been lost to me.  I’ve been really enjoying going back and restudying it for 10-30 minutes everyday and hope to enroll in a class sometime in the future (for credit and authenticity).  I’ve been doing tracing for writing, using an app and playing a game through Steam called “Hiragana Battle” which is quite good.

 

Audio/video editting

In my freshman year of college, I started to study how to make videos.  I even did some decent beginner videos which are still on youtube.  Then…I transferred colleges and gave it up.  Recently I’ve been playing around with video editing and the audio program Audacity. Random trivia: I was involved in theater for 12 years and enjoy doing different voices (to the amusement of my students).  I know your voice is supposed to sound strange to you, but I definitely sound like a kid.  Thus my dreams of being a twitch streamer fade…

 

Writing/editing 

I’ve always wanted to be a writer and love to do any kind of writing.  Heck, I wrote my first mini novel in third grade!  However…its been something on the back burner for a long time since writing is a saturated market.  Despite this, I’ve been doing more writing as of late and working on my editing skills more.

 

Moving forward…

It’s only been 3 weeks since I started this journey of rediscovery and I’m excited to see where it goes.  In the future, I have a running list of what I want to work on next in addition to fine tuning the above.  Next up-I’d like to work on HTML5, data entry (which I do at work surprisingly) and brush up on my German.

 

Thoughts on minimalism

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I want to start with a bit of a backstory here and one I alluded to in my previous post.  After graduating college I spent a year doing part-time and freelance jobs and just surviving (financially).  I also graduated with considerable student loans, which I managed to defer for 1.5 years until I had been at a stable full-time job for 6 months.

It wasn’t a well paying job and I was in the expensive city of Charlottesville, VA.  I got by with a lot less and while I had family aid, going out to eat was definitely a treat as well as the rare once every few months book. I utilized things that were free or cheap, which made me a penny pincher (or more of one).

Fast forward to the fall of 2015.  My freelance writer job ended when the company I wrote for folded.  I had been selling a lot of things, which helped me to see more of what was important (which has stuck).  I was barley making ends meet, even with family support, when I got a job offer….a teaching job paying more than double what I was making, I leapt at the chance.

A year later, my student loans have crashed dramatically, I can freely donate to causes I’m passionate about, buy quality items (i.e. quality clothes), buy better food (I can afford shrimp??) and I feel comfortable money wise.

 

Personal philosophy

I believe that too much stuff clouds our insides.  Clutter is not only distracting, but it takes away from something being special.  You’re going to remember that one book you bought and the circumstances around it more than the pile of books you loaded up on.  I individualize things both with people, memories and stuff.  When I do buy things or go on trips or to events, it’s special.

A smaller space

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As I’ve gotten older, my ideal living space has decreased in size.  Granted I’m still going to opt for a 3 bedroom house (someday), I’ve been looking more into downgrading my rentals in the future.  Currently I have a 2 bedroom apartment to myself and while its great (especially those 3-4 times a year company comes over), I wonder if I really need that space.  Is it worth the extra $100-200 a month?  Maybe not.  It’s just me and my second bedroom functions as an away place when I’m tired of chilling in another part of my apartment…but mostly its an organized storage space.

With my lease coming up for renewal at the end of next month, I’ve been seriously considering downgrading to a 1 bedroom apartment, with the following considerations:

  1. If it saves me $100+ or more per month
  2. Job depending (offered a contract renewal which I’ll sign if another offer doesn’t come in the next two months)

If nothing else, my next apartment will probably be a 1 bedroom.  Can I downsize what I have?  Absolutely.  Realistically I enjoy space, but I could easily make with a smaller space and I enjoy the idea of a smaller space.  I plan on renting/nomading for at least another 3-4 years, unless a life change (marriage, family member illness) prompts me otherwise.  Speaking of downsizing…

 

Thoughts on stuff

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(My buys from Toomanygames in Greater Oaks, PA)

Every year I set an ‘anti-consumerism’ goal.  This goal is a set number of objects that I intend to recycle, sell or donate over the course of the year.  This year it’s 200, which I have almost met.  In previous years I had higher numbers, but that was when I was a poor post-college student who had to sell her rare video games to make a student loan payment.

Do I think I have too much stuff?  Of course.  Could I get rid of more?  Yes.  If I had to, I’d not be heartbroken about downsizing my stuff to the point where I only have enough to fit into my car.  I have things that are important to me for necessity and emotional reasons, but at the end of the day, its just stuff.  Yes, I’ll keep the things I don’t need, but want, because I don’t have to get rid of it.

I feel there are some minimalists that take things to the extreme.  It’s a gray area for me to explain why because ‘I can live without it, but I don’t have to so I’ll keep it.’  I’m a fan of physical media (i.e. DVDs) and I have a massive book collection.  For most of my books/movies/games, I do go back and play, watch or read them every few years.  I just only keep what I want.

I go through all of my belongings every 3-4 months.  It might mean taking a small load of unwanted books to the local bookstore or selling a game I beat and know I won’t play again (if I love a video games, I will keep it, same way with a movie).  I usually make that decision when I finish a book, movie or video game, but I check my collections regardless every couple of months.

A ‘luxury’ my current job and pay has allowed me is buying quality items.  My wardrobe has become filled with quality clothing that will last me many years and washings that are staple items (I avoid fast fashion for ethical and financial reasons).  In the past I loaded up on cheap camp’s, but those days are gone.  This rule extends to other things like linens and organizational supplies, with some organizational skills and forward thinking thrown in.

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Going forward

Thinking ahead to next years goals (hey, I’m a planner) I will be making a goal of NOT buying more than X number of clothes, books, games what have you.  In addition, I want to set another ‘get rid of X number of things’ in an amount greater than my intake.  It shouldn’t be hard and it’ll help move me towards a more ideal minimalist life, especially if the goal I am setting becomes reality.

 

 

 

There must be more

 

In May 2015, I was offered a full-time teaching contract.  Up to that point I’d been a teaching assistant or substitute teacher. It was during my student teaching experience that I realized teaching a general education classroom of 30 kids was not my calling.  I got into Special Education the year after graduating and have been in it since.

Becoming a Special Education teacher meant a lot of things.  It also meant having a decent paycheck that allowed me the opportunity to eat out without worry, buy nice clothes, buy a macbook (finally!)  Up until that point, I’d been living paycheck to paycheck for the most part (I did have a decent emergency fund, however.)  Most importantly, I’m closer to family and live just down the road from my two best friends!  I do love the area I live in too, even though some people detest Northern Virginia.  If I get tired of the area, I can drive 1-2 hours to a close friends place and stay for a bit.

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Despite this, there is a nagging feeling that has only grown over the last 2 months.  As an introvert, the extroverted nature of being a teacher has left me feeling worn thin.  Yet as an INFJ, I need social interaction and I’m a humanitarian.  I need to help others like a person needs water.  I became a teacher because I love learning and want to instill that in my students.  I also went in knowing I’d have the role of being a counselor–which I do at work and enriches me.  Yet, the feeling that there’s something else I’m supposed to do has only intensified.

Some may call it ‘grass is greener’ syndrome, but I believe a person can have multiple callings in life.  I’m at the age/point in my life where I have a good idea of what I’m good at or not good at, so narrowing the list of things I could do next is plausible.  Teaching requires a lot of skills, all of which easily translate into other careers.  Teaching has a high burn out rate and you can find former teachers in virtually every career.

I’m not sure where I’ll be in another year career wise, but I have a feeling in my gut that changes are coming my way, for the better.  Despite all the changes that loom on the horizon, I’m excited for them.  My mentor said something once that has stuck with me.  I mentioned wanting to move to another town after college and she said “go further”.  She didn’t want me to settle because she saw potential in me and I want to not only live up to those expectations, but mentor others in the same way.

Here’s to forward steps!