by Erica Blanco
Over the eight years that I have been in a classroom, I have learned some valuable lessons about children, teaching, and myself. For five of those years, I have been a lead teacher. After five years of teaching, I am told, I am considered a master teacher. What does this title really mean? Should I feel like Obi Wan Kenobi, who has all of the answers? Because I am more like Luke Skywalker, who is good, but still learning to wield the force. Nonetheless, there are a few important lessons, or tips if you will, that I have picked up over the years. I am sharing them with you to make up for all the times I've thought if I only knew then what I know now. So here goes!
Lesson 1: Document Everything.
The most important tip that I can give any teacher is to document everything. I once worked with a woman who carried a notebook with her at all times. When I asked her, “What are you doing with the notebook?” She told me that she documented everything; any interaction with a parent or administration. She said, “You are the only one looking out for you. This notebook has saved me many times.” It was my first year of teaching and I didn’t truly understand the importance of documentation until much later.
My colleague was right…documentation is everything. My advice is to get a notebook and carry it around always. Use it when you speak to your boss, other teachers, and even parents. I find that when I am at a parent teacher conference, I always have a piece of paper to jot down some notes about what the parents are saying. It helps me remember not only what I need to do, but also gives me some insight about what the child is like at home. It’s crucial to take notes at staff meetings even when someone is taking official minutes. Make sure that you underline or highlight things that apply directly to you or your class. Take notes about what is being said, but also things that you might have to accomplish. It will help you become better organized and strengthen your memory. Keeping written record of conversations with parents and staff is generally considered a good practice.
When I was a first-year teacher, I didn’t listen to others because I thought I knew everything, but I didn’t and one day I got into a situation that could have been solved if I had written things down! Luckily, I learned my lesson and it has saved me more than once this year. You need to make sure you organize your own information. Make sure to date your notes. Write down who attended the meeting and who said what. The more detailed the notes, the better they will serve you down the road.
Lesson 2: Get to know the parents.
Montessori lends itself to a unique relationship with parents. Not only do you get to teach a child for three years, but you also have the same families for three years. This gives you an opportunity to really get to know the child and the family. Parents play a huge role in the child’s life and I have found it makes life easier as a teacher when the parents trust and like you. I have very strong bonds with my parents. It is important that they know you care about not only their child, but also their family as a unit. What happens at home affects the child and gives you a bigger picture of their world.
Some teachers have a different philosophy and feel parents should be kept at arms' length. You need to figure out what works for you and your teaching style. It benefits you to have support from the parents. I have found that when parents feel included and involved, they have much more confidence in you. They are more willing to work with you and open to suggestions. One of the parents that I am close with came to me with an issue and I was able to give my opinion and advice frankly because she knew I was coming from a place of love.
Lesson 3: You serve the children.
As a teacher you will often need to remind yourself that you are there for the children. It is sometimes hard to remember that when there are external pressures or demands. I know that it is easy to get caught up in the administration stuff. The fact is that every school is going to have its ups and downs. No school is perfect. That should never affect the way you treat the children. This is my personal mantra that I sometimes need to say to remind myself of this. I truly love the children and that is why I switched careers from public relations to teaching.
It can be hard to keep your focus on the children when you are asked to do things that don’t align with your values or isn’t in the best interest of the child. Come back to why you wanted to teach. Why did you choose this over something else? Most often it is not because of the money or vacation; it is because we love to watch children grow and bloom. We find wonder in watching a child develop and discover who they are and what their place is in the world.
Lesson 4: Don’t panic, remain calm.
Always remain calm. It is so easy to get swept up in the upcoming events, testing, and a million other things. Each child will get where they’re supposed to go. It takes time, patience, and a lot of deep breaths. I believe in starting my day with some mindfulness meditation. It helps keep me on track and focused. It doesn’t always help and we can’t always be as cool as a cucumber. Sometimes we all have a moment when we lose it, but try to find it as fast as possible afterwards.
Lesson 5: Know thyself.
This last piece of advice that I would like to share is know who you are and what your strengths are. Not every teacher is great at team teaching and others are not good at organization or creating curriculum. You must know who you are before you go into the classroom. After working in different types of classrooms and schools, I know that I do better as a single teacher. Co-teaching is difficult for me because I tend to be in my head and sometimes I forget to communicate. I realized that when I was working with two other lead teachers. It got very confusing and frustrating because no matter how much we would talk or plan, things will always be in flux when you follow the child. Personally, I love to share ideas and help in any way I can, but when I am working I think faster than I can relay. I am so glad that I had this experience because it has taught me more about who I am and what works best for me. Remember to be honest with yourself because the truth matters to you!
I hope this has been helpful. It was meant to give you some tips to start off the new year in a positive way. I am always open to helping others and sharing information that makes life easier. I want all teachers to find their way and their strengths just like the children! Imagine a world where everyone knew where they belonged and enjoyed doing what they loved…it would be a beautiful world! I hope that you have a lovely holiday and happy New Year!