What I Learned From My First Full Year Teaching

It’s been quite some time since I posted on the blog, and I hope that this post will shed some light on why I’ve been so neglectful (see #4 below).

On June 20th, I finished my first full year of teaching. This year has been so many things– exciting, exhausting, challenging — but, most importantly, it has been enlightening. I have learned so many things from this first year, and to ensure that I never forget these valuable lessons, I thought I’d share them here.

Here’s what I’ve learned from my first full year of teaching:

  1. Teacher friends are the best friends. This isn’t to say that I don’t adore my non-teacher friends because, obviously, I do, but there is a certain kind of understanding and empathy that my teacher friends have that others can’t. When I’m struggling to determine the needs of a particularly challenging student, they offer advice. When I’m stuck between two options for handling a difficult situation, they offer guidance. When I’m writing a final assignment and want to be sure that I’m communicating in the best way possible to my students, they read through my handouts. And when I’m overwhelmed and need to talk, they’re not only there, but they’ve experienced the same things and can empathize and advise me. I couldn’t survive teaching without the wonderful friends and colleagues I have; they are not only insightful people to run lesson and assignment ideas by, but friends who offer emotional support.
  2. You will always have something to grade. There were few times this year when I didn’t have something to grade. If you asked any of my students (especially my sophomores), they would tell you we write constantly, and they wouldn’t be completely wrong. I believe the best way for them to improve their writing is to do it frequently, and I also believe receiving feedback on their writing is what truly leads to great improvement. So what does this mean for me? I have to grade. A lot. I think there was maybe 2 or 3 times this year when I had a few days where I had nothing to grade. Sure, I could do myself a favor and either not assign so much writing or not grade everything, but I truly believe this led to significant improvement in all of my students.
  3. There’s never enough time. Something I didn’t realize would be so difficult is balancing my curriculum with all the administrative work we also need to get done. Trying to find time to get DDMs, college essays, MCAS prep, writing folders, etc. done while also cohesively addressing the units in my planned curriculum was challenging, and I think, at times, disorienting for my students. I am hoping to improve on this greatly for next year!
  4. Balance is difficult. I struggled to balance everything going on in my life this year. I am fortunate to have mammals (this word choice will make sense in a moment) who helped, and sometimes forced, me to try to balance things. My work friends and I would check in with each other, making sure we got enough grading and planning done, but also encouraging each other to take breaks once we’d felt each other got enough done. Joe and Steph, thanks for encouraging the breaks in particular! I am also fortunate to have friends, Kate and Danah, whom I do scholarship with; because I had them, I was ‘forced’ to make time to get scholarship, a very important part of my academic and personal life, done. Without them, I don’t know if I would have made the time for it, and I would have greatly regretted that. My husband has been very patient with me; fortunately, he’s a bit addicted to his work also, but we both made an effort to plan times where we could do fun things together as a family. This year we also got a puppy, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Our pup, River, forced me to take time off from grading and planning in order to meet her needs. I won’t lie, there were times I didn’t meet her needs the way I would have liked (missing a walk or not playing enough outside with her, and trust me, I beat myself up over that), but because I want to make sure she is a happy pup, I have had to work hard to prioritize.
  5. Sleep doesn’t happen oftenOne thing I didn’t prioritize was sleep. Because I was so busy trying to balance everything else, my sleep often suffered. I am, however, ‘fortunate’ in that when I get overtired, I get extremely happy and energized (upping my coffee intake doesn’t hurt either). My students could always tell when I’d gone a few days with little sleep. My overly excited hello’s or my incredibly enthusiastic instructions would often be followed with “Ms. Mooney, did you sleep at all last night?” or “Ms. Mooney, three cups today?” (referring to my three cups of coffee rather than my typical two). Although I’m glad my overtired self makes me even more excited and passionate in the classroom (rather than a zombie), I recognize that it’s not good for my health, and it’s something I hope to improve on this coming year.
  6. Work always comes home. Obviously grading and planning come home with teachers, but I’m talking about the emotional baggage that I bring home. I’ve always been someone who gets emotionally invested in her work– it’s part of the reason I found ABA therapy particularly draining– so I’m not surprised that this happened while I was teaching, but it’s something I need to work on. This really comes back to balance. I would find myself, especially when spending time with colleagues outside of work, constantly talking about work, trying to figure out issues with students, trying to navigate administrative and curriculum needs in a way that best support students, etc. It got to the point where we had to make rules that we wouldn’t talk about school after a certain point of being together (which we failed at more than once). Having veteran teacher friends, I see that it is possible not to be hyper-focused on work, so I’m hopeful this can change.

There are so many other things that I’ve learned this year, but, I think, these are some of the most important ones for me, personally. These are things I hope to greatly improve on this coming year, so this summer, I will be brainstorming strategies to help that happen!

And because she was mentioned in this post, meet River!

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