Dear New Teacher,

Dear New Teacher,

I made mistakes that still keep me up at night. But I also built a classroom library. Isn’t it beautiful? I dismissed it at the time because it was easy and fun. Now I realize how cool it is.

I have a teensy, weensy bit of bad news for you: This year is probably going to suck. You’re going to work very, very hard, lose sleep, care so much, and still be convinced that a potted plant would teach them more than you can.

Here is a short list of the mistakes you will almost certainly make:

-Forget to make copies of an assignment in time to give it to students before the due date. Or forget the assignment entirely.
-Answer a student question TOTALLY incorrectly, and be corrected by a student in front of the class.
-Lose important papers.
-Give a student the benefit of the doubt even though you KNOW she is lying.
-Choose the wrong moment to be a hard ass.
-Write a bad test.
-Confuse your students and then yourself.
-Plan WAY too little for one day, and spend a very uncomfortable 20 minutes waiting for the bell to ring.

You’ll do lots of great things, too, but you’ll dismiss those things, or fail to realize how great they are. You’ll be wearing goggles that allow you only to see your shortcomings, and there will be many of those.

The good news is that the first year ends. You will learn from it. You’ll start your second year with a much better sense of self, and you’ll be much less worried about things like whether or not you’ve got chalk on your butt. You’ll stop feeling like an imposter. You’ll let fewer things slide, and have more days that go smoothly. More and more, you’ll feel that you don’t have enough time to teach them everything you want to teach them. The period will end and you will think, “Wow, that went fast.”

You’ll reach someone. You’ll take things less personally. You’ll work hard, but more efficiently, and you’ll enjoy the work more.

By your third year (and I know that sounds like it’s a million, billion years from now, but it’s not. It’ll be here so fast it’ll make your head spin), you’ll have a few lesson plans you love. You’ll have moments you feel proud of, and students whose lives you’ve improved, if only by a small margin. You’ll be more pragmatic about the students who’ve slipped through your grasp, and, while you’ll keep stretching yourself to reach those difficult students, you’ll recognize that they do have to meet you halfway, and that you can’t force them. You’ll know when you’re being lied to, and feel more confident about how to deal with it. You’ll be a hard ass when you need to be, and you’ll be forgiving when you can. You’ll begin to know what kind of teacher you are. By now, you’ll have a reputation among the students. Don’t worry–they’re quite perceptive. If you’ve been working hard, and if you like them, and if you are passionate about your subject, you’ll have a good reputation. That reputation will help you. Students will conform to you more quickly, and test your boundaries less often.

You’ll suddenly realize that you haven’t worried about whether or not your butt was covered in chalk for weeks. When a student asks you a question to which you don’t know the answer, you’ll simply say, “I don’t know,” and then you’ll find out.

You’ll ask the class a question, and be comfortable letting the silence stretch for longer than 5 seconds.

You won’t be scared of your students anymore.

You won’t hate Sunday nights anymore.

You’ll love summer, but you’ll also look forward to September, because a fresh slate is now more exciting than it is terrifying.

You will remember that first class, and you’ll remember the students who were sacrificed on the altar of your first year. You’ll remember the student whose face fell when you made an ill-timed and overly harsh joke. You’ll remember the student who showed signs of needing real help, the one who might’ve had an eating disorder or whose parents might have been neglecting him. You’ll wish you’d gone to the counselors, and you’ll wonder how that student is doing now.

And you’ll remember that student when one of your new ones comes to you with a problem. You’ll stay on top of that problem. You’ll follow up. No matter the outcome, you’ll know that you took action.

You’ll be organized, and aware, and you’ll love your job.

Because nothing worth having is easy to get, and being a good teacher is very, very worth all the pain it takes to get there.

Good luck, New Teacher. You’re gonna need it!




Banishing Writer’s Block

The following post was published on my now-defunct first blog, Loose Leaf Writing, on June 3, 2010:

Feeling very full of myself for having spent 10 uninterrupted minutes on task.

This morning, I’ve already gone to the bathroom, bought a coffee, eaten a bagel, gone to the bathroom again, gone to the vending machine, decided against the vending machine, and returned to the vending machine to buy the Swedish Fish after all. I’m about to make my third trip to the bathroom to clean the Fish residue out of my teeth.

I’ve set myself the arbitrary goal of finishing my current chapter today. So far I’ve written a page and a half, but that doesn’t even count because I started the morning by deleting a page and a half. So after two hours of “writing,” all I’ve managed to do is spend money, consume calories, and end up back where I started this morning.

No writer I’ve ever known can claim to have a 100% foolproof method of warding off writer’s block, but, this morning aside, I have developed a few strategies over the years that do actually work. At least some of the time:

 1. Change your medium.
If you’ve been typing at your desk, write in a notebook. If you’ve been writing in a notebook, try typing at your desk. Better yet, instead of using either of these practical methods, grab a bunch of scrap paper out of your recycling bin (envelopes work great) and write on it. The smaller and more easily lost the piece of scrap paper, the more likely you’ll write eloquent sentences that you’ll never be able to reproduce after said paper is, in fact, lost.

 2. Change your location.
Move from your desk to the sofa. Or better yet, to your bed. If you are lucky, you’ll fall asleep while writing. This can result in one of two happy outcomes: You might keep writing as you fall asleep. There’s no telling what genius is hiding in your subconscious that might spill out on paper as you drift off. Or, you might have a lovely dream about your current writing project. Or, even better, a whole new project might come to you. This leads directly into:

 3. Change your project.
You know how you always have the most momentum and inspiration when you first begin a new story? This is the reason I have the first ten pages of at least 20 novels saved on my hard drive. It’s also a great solution to writer’s block. Sure, you’re not going to end up with a publishable piece if you keep it up, but on the other hand, it can help you avoid all those exhausting trips to the bathroom.

And finally:

4. Go for a walk.
Don’t take a pen or paper with you. Don’t take a phone. Don’t take a camera. Walk away from any and all possible writing implements or recording devices. I guarantee that the second you do, inspiration will strike. At this point, you may pick up a stick and write in the mud, or charge into the nearest store and demand a pen. Or build a fire and send smoke signals home. If you’re lucky, the person transcribing your message will write it in crayon on an old credit card bill which they will then throw away. That’s how you’ll know for sure that what you’ve written is brilliant.