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10 Unexpected Life Lessons I Learned As a Teacher

If there’s one job in life that I believe is invaluable, it’s becoming a teacher. Every time I give someone a resume, I just want to put a giant stamp on there saying ” I was a teacher” and leave it at that. You quickly learn to wear every hat in the book or your toast. I learned so much in my first 10 months of teaching, it was insane. After basically being throw in, I faced challenges everywhere I turned. There was no such thing as an easy day.

These 10 main lessons I learned proved to not only be helpful in keeping me afloat as a teacher but I realized they helped with growing my blog, grew me as a person and were really just good life lessons in general. If I can learn from all these lessons, I know you can to!

As a kid, I thought teachers had an easy peasy job. Winter break, summer and all major holidays off? Sign me up. Not exactly. If you did not have those breaks as a teacher, your kids might not see the light of day when summer starts haha. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine or picture myself a teacher. Sometimes it still feels like a recurring dream I had. TBH teaching is not my life calling. I don’t love it. I hate it sort of. I love captivating the room and connecting with the students. The actual act of standing in front of a classroom and talking for 7 hours a day teaching lessons is my least favorite part. Disciplining the students and having to constantly manage a classroom is the aspect I really hate.

I may be biased but I believe I taught at one of the hardest schools in our county. Even after subbing in schools all around town, I still have not witnessed the same behavior I saw at the school I taught at. I had students who have mile long criminal records most adults don’t have. I also had students that probably never scored below a 100 on a test. The difference in lifestyles, backgrounds, ethnicity, economic status, family and personality was wild.

Life at a teacher felt like I was a professional bathroom pass writer, band aid giver, pencil supplier and classroom warden. You drown in emails, weekends are spent lesson planning and anything you do at home is the other 100% of the job no one tells you about. I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world because of how much I grew and learned in such a short time, yet it’s a hard hard job I don’t desire to do long term. Teaching will change your life, is super rewarding and will strengthen you like no other. Here we go!

10 Life Lessons I Learned As a Teacher

1) PLAN AHEAD. If you read nothing but this one your golden. I am the girl who can fly by the seat of my pants, have 0 plans on my agenda and feel as free as a bird with no care in the world. That might work on the weekends, just never do that as a teacher. If you don’t prepare, you basically die. The feeling of being prepared for the first time as a teacher felt like the heavens opened up and the warm sun was shining down.

The worst part of starting a new job for me was feeling completely disorganized. I would go home every night, plan out the next day and still feel in over my head. No matter what I did, I still felt like I was not prepared for the day ahead. It took planning almost 7 days a week, using my weekends to organize, plan, review and then finally figured out a system after about three months.

Planning ahead has also helped my blog tremendously! Blog growth truly depends on pre-planning and strategies. It sounds complex but it’s so simple. If I want to gain more page views from Pinterest, I must come up with a strategy. That means planning a day when I can sit down and schedule out all of my pins, decide what boards and pins are performing best and then either re-pin old pins that perform super well or create new content that I know will attract my target reader.

Working backwards from a master desk calendar, keeping a physical planner, creating a digital week by week agenda and a constant to-do list are what kept me afloat as a teacher. My life is not that rigid but planning ahead using calendars, writing info down and even rehearsing different scenarios is what will save you when life is tough.

2) DON’T PROCRASTINATE. This is a warning. Don’t sit and wait. Do what you can right away. Emails would flood my inbox daily and almost always, they were asking us to do something. Anything I could do immediately, I did it that second. I would actually stand up, make the copy, send the email, input grades, sign up for the course, buy the classroom supply, make the phone call, drop off money, you name it. That way, when it was crunch time and everyone else was stressing about getting in their grades on time or felt scattered trying to find that important email to take a survey at our morning staff meeting, I was sitting back with my feet up.

In my personal life I do the same. I’m not perfect at never procrastinating but I try my hardest to make it a daily routine that becomes a habit. I make my bed every AM. This sets me up to keep my room organized throughout the week. All my laundry goes in the hamper, I fold clothes immediately once their dry, I pay my bills or set a date as soon as they come in the mail, and send out packages. Do what you can as soon as you can. Then prioritize the rest.

3) PRIORITIZE. There’s books on time management all over the internet. Companies send their teams to week long conferences to learn about how precious time is. For me it’s simple. I kept a running “to-do” list on my desk at all times. Anytime I would get an email with a task in it, which was always, I’d write it on my to-do list. During my planning period, I would number my list from #1 as most important and so on, 1,2,3,4,5… I could only focus on about 5 things at a time but my list had at least 10-20 things written down at any given time.

As a teacher my #1 most important task was always to have my lesson plans prepared. To put it simple. No lesson plans = classroom zoo. Lesson plans = organized chaos and a happy teacher. Then my second priority would be any parent phone calls along with referrals/detentions I had to write before or after school. Which was daily btw. Once those two were taken care of, I would just go down my list. If it was easy and quick…I would do that right away, like send a YES to an email reply and cross it off.

4) GO.WITH.THE.FLOW. Kids are kids. You need to be calm and collected or at least appear to be. This is where teachers especially get in a tizzy. If a last minute change is sprung on you, just go with it and do it happily! You will be much more peaceful instead of worried about how your perfect plan will get finished.

You quickly learn there’s going to be a million disruptions throughout the day. Admin will tell you to immediately check your email for an important announcement. The phone will ring 5 millions times. Kids will have breakdowns. You will break up fights in your giant classroom full of kitchen knives and supplies. They will spring on you in the AM a last minute parent meeting on the same day you have a big cooking lab. Kids will have a paper cut and need a pass ASAP. Half your class will be gone on a field trip. Testing days. The resource officer and dean make a special trip to your room. The list goes on.

Our plans in life sometimes never go to plan. You need to be able to just let it go like Elsa says! Always have a plan, but in an instant you need to be okay with changing everything. Interruptions are just a part of life and I’d rather enjoy my time than get in a tizzy.

5. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. When you work with middle schoolers day in and day out, you quickly learn how old and out of the loop you are. Even a ten year age difference will age you. I had a super unique audience to learn about. My kids would use words like, “your shoes are lit”, “your so basic” and “she’s so thicc” and I had to quickly learn what they were talking about. I tried so hard to teach them about high fashion and runway shows and have never been shot down faster. 😂 Lesson learned the hard way.

If I wanted to connect with them, I had to learn all about them and what they like. My classroom became all about the kids and how I could serve them. I honestly just asked them specific questions all the time. What music do you listen to? Where did you hang out this weekend? Do you play video games, specifically Fortnite, HA. I listened to all of their appropriate and inappropriate conversations and their lingo.

Once I figured them out a bit, I tied in their interests whenever I could in a lesson. I used YouTube videos all the time to teach and they loved them. The kids at my school also loved Nike shoes. 95% of them wore Nike shoes every single day. So I came up with a project where they had to design a Nike shoe project. They loved it. All my new classes would constantly ask when they got to do the “shoe project”.

This might not be an applicable life lesson for everyone but generally in certain situations it can be used. I feel like the Christian community really misses this a ton. People always want to reach the young people or others different than themselves, yet they make no change. I had to literally engulf myself in their world. Not become them but understand, accept it and not judge. I was open to to learning about them, their backgrounds, interests, personal stories and learned to never judge them by their cover nor compare them to anyone else.

6. HAVE FUN! There is nothing worse than being bored! We all want to laugh and have fun, or at least I do! This was a huge lesson I had to learn. In the beginning, I was so focused on being stern, letting them know I meant business and was completely stressed out of my mind that I forgot my students were twelve. They want to laugh during the day, not walk around like robots. I was jokingly told, “Don’t smile the first three months of school” and I definitely could not keep that up because it made me miserable. I was super afraid I would look weak but now I realize strength comes in differen’t forms. It took me a few months but I eventually was able to loosen up, enjoy my kids, laugh and joke.

I had a super huge classroom, so I researched tons of games and found this one ball game that focused on non-verbal communication for one of my 7th grade classes. It fit in with the curriculum, so on certain days if their behavior was on point and their work was finished, they would get rewarded with a 5 minute ball game. It gave me peace and quiet and they actually had fun while learning.

It’s sooooo easy to go about our daily life, get weighed down by a million responsibilities, come home and repeat the day again. If we forget to laugh, smile and have fun, were really missing out on what life is all about! Us elective teachers also have the most fun!

7. PATIENCE IS KEY! One of my big strengths is patience. Kids are insanely stressful, often annoying and needy. The moment they step into your classroom, you are their go-to person to shout questions at. Some don’t yet understand personal space or what waiting means and they get in your face to tell you what they ate for lunch 2 minutes into class while you take attendance. That was always my personal fave ha.

I don’t want to toot my own horn but I really have an odly high tolerance for middle school kids and just kids in general. I love helping them, talking to them kindly, understanding their questions and just listening to them. I was never in a rush to do anything in my room. We went at a calm pace daily. I took time to answer their questions, talk to them as individuals and really showed them you can be calm inside when your outward circumstances don’t exactly match. It helped so much and made me a happy happy teacher.

One time my student was being a butt and very rudley kept talking over me. After multiple warnings, I just looked at him, smiled and said, you just earned yourself a detention”. He started laughing and was like, “Ms. McCarty, I was being bad, and your just so calm and always smiling, even when you give detentions”. He was 100% true. I learned quickly, it’s much better to be patient in those situations than angry because feeling annoyed at the end of the day or immediately after was never enjoyable. Removing the blame off yourself for someone else’s behavior also helped me to. I was able to give more grace which gave me more patience.

It took a lot to get me angry, like they had to burn the school down to really get me irritated and that only happened once or twice where I had to yell so loud for pure safety issues, my blood rushed to my face and I turned beet red. Other than a few instances, I handled their problems with as much grace and ease as possible and it made my life and their life so much more pleasurable.

8. EXPERIENCE TRUMPS KNOWLEDGE. College and degrees and all that stuff is important but it’s not everything. One of the hardest parts for me in college was when teachers would teach us fashion courses, yet they had no formal or practical experience working in fashion. They taught us all the typical text book stuff, made us take notes and it sounded amazing on paper. There was just always a big disconnect. I long to learn from people who have been there, gone through hard things, and will share about the ins and outs of their business or whatever their expertise is in.

Kids are the exact same way. They would respond so much better and their eyes lit up when I would talk about my experiences in fashion. Like the room would go silent and they would be so intently listening. It’s like they could tell the difference without me having to actually say it. Culinary on the other hand was so much harder to teach. I had some knowledge and experience with much less passion. We had fun but a formal chef with training or kitchen experience would have helped the kids learn on an even deeper level and get them excited for a possible culinary career.

I don’t think knowledge is bad but I do believe that getting your hands dirty and actually trying and doing new things is always going to win, especially when sharing or teaching!

9. FAILING IS GOOD. Right before I started teaching, someone wise told me, “God’s love turns everything into success, even when you think you’ve failed”. Those words passed right through one ear and out the other. It wasn’t until I was a few weeks in where those words hit me like a semi. I made sooooo many mistakes as a teacher. Sometimes I don’t even know how they let me have a classroom. Only slightly kidding there ha. It wasn’t until I felt like I was doing absolutely nothing right and failing miserably that I kept reminding myself God’s love was so much more powerful than my mistakes. I repeated to myself all the time, “I am successful” and I still believe it!

My funniest mistake happened on the very first day of school. A student showed up at my door looking for someone to sew her plastic lunchbox. 😂 I was so eager to meet my new students and anticipating the day. Once she introduced herself, I said in my most upbeat voice, “Hi, I’m Katie”. HAHAHAHAHA. I wish I was joking. Deff never made that mistake again.

From that point on I made mistake after mistake. I called students by the wrong name, missed important staff meetings, didn’t answer important emails, never updated grades on time the first semester, didn’t call parents when I was supposed to, almost made all my kids state standardized FSA tests invalid by a tech error (they were not happy about that mistake and let me know it too), was probably to sarcastic with my students, and the list goes on and on.

Out of all my mistakes, and there were plenty, I remember my wins so much more. Every time I would do something right I celebrated. I was almost naive about how little I knew about teaching but did my absolute best and was super willing to learn and improve with all the help I got from admin and my co-workers. Being a first year teacher is truly what I feel most proud of in my life. I accomplished so much, saw direct results from implementing changes and got a big taste of what true success looks like. Which is lots of failing.

10. LOVE IS MOST POWERFUL. People just want to be seen and heard. Each of my students were so completely different. I really tried to re-iterate every AM that it was a new day. The past was the past. I gave them grace and forgave them and myself for all the messes and mistakes we made the day before. And the great thing about kids? For the most part their really resilient and tend to forget why they hated me so much for having strict rules a few days later. I learned to not hold onto their offense and taught them to do the same.

It’s really not all about you. It’s what you can give. Being selfish is impossible as a teacher. People are relying on you. If you don’t fill up on your own time, your patience will be tested and giving your knowledge, time, and self is just impossible.

My kids would ask me insane questions, tell me crazy stories and some of their conversations were not even appropriate for adults. It was never my job to judge them. Sure they may annoy me at times but I loved them to the best of my ability. They didn’t need another person telling them how bad they were, what they did wrong or why I was disappointed in them. They would hear words like, “your awesome, you got it, I know this is hard but keep going, I really like you, don’t give up”. It was my job but it was also God working through me to give them a safe place where they felt wanted, needed, seen and heard. Learning peoples names was a big one! I would remember to ask about their weekends, classes, clubs and interests which made the world of a difference when getting to know them. They knew I really cared because I showed them.

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Tammy
    March 9, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Great advice for anyone at any age! Thank you!

    • Reply
      Sunshine Style
      March 10, 2019 at 7:39 pm

      Thank you so much Tammy!! =)

  • Reply
    Caitlin
    March 11, 2019 at 1:09 am

    Oh my goodness YES to allll the above. There are days that can be incredibly stressful, but when I look back at it, there are so many good lessons and moments in teaching.
    Caitlin

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