She looked at me and innocently asked, “What are we going to learn about in February?”
“How am I supposed to know?” I answered. “It's only November.”
She laughed as I glanced down at my watch and realized it’s the third week of school. We haven't even hit the end of September yet.
Sometimes I sit back and wonder if those first few weeks of school ever get easier. As a first year teacher, I was so unprepared and unsure of what I was about to face. Now, as a third year teacher, I still find the transition to waking up before the crack of dawn and being on my feet all day to be a tough one. As an added bonus, I find myself teaching three different courses this year: U.S. history, 9th grade English and 11th grade English. As my Freudian slip reveals, it has been a long first few weeks.
One thing that has helped me a great deal has been what I term my Systems of Organization. Our brains work like a filing cabinet, so in organizing my materials, I train my brain to organize information. As quickly as I can stop by my office and grab a stack of handouts, I can trigger my brain into history mode. In my third year, I found these Systems of Organization to be indispensable.
It helps manage stress as well as materials. Every teacher, especially in special education, will need to develop his/her own System of Organization. I've found individual student folders, where student keep work that has been graded and needs to be graded, pocket drop envelopes and paper trays to be extremely helpful. Every class has a place for paperwork, lesson plans and student handouts. Every student has a place for his/her papers.
I addition to managing paperwork, I've done a really good job (knock on wood!) of staying ahead of the game. I write lessons a week in advance and try to stay on top of grading as much as possible. Our jobs are full of curveballs: a rescheduled IEP meeting, an unexpected coverage, a paper shortage, a copier breakdown. Do yourself a favor. I know it’s hard, but stay ahead of the game. It'll save you a lot of money on Rogaine and hair dye down the road.
In addition to what I've learned to do in school, I’ve learned the importance of taking care of myself outside of work. During my first two years of teaching I was taking graduate classes in addition to teaching, so I had almost no time to myself. My love for running had fallen by the wayside, so I joined a local running club last year. Don't let this happen to you.
Find something you love, and do it for yourself. Schedule time for a yoga class. Try out a new restaurant each week. Spend 2 hours cooking and eating dinner. See a movie. Find time you can dedicate to YOU and not your students or your work. We all play different roles in life: brother, husband, sister, wife, church member, volunteer, mother, son. Teacher is only one of them. Make time for those things that are important to you. If you don't take care of yourself, then you won't be able to teach.
For those of you, like me, who are struggling to fight back sleep even only as the sun sets in the evening, a few words of solace: Hang in there, it gets better. I'm exhausted, but I'm looking forward to a great new year.