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New Beginnings

An art room only a teacher could come to love.. it fixed up quite nicely with some good 'ol fashioned elbow grease.

Hello and welcome to my art room! I'm going to make a concentrated effort this year to chronicle my experiences as a first year teacher here at Rickard's High School. I've had a bit of a whirlwind these first few weeks to be honest... I accepted my current position on the drive to my grandfather's funeral, having just buried my dad two months prior. That in itself was it's own emotional nightmare. Upon getting keys to my new room, I experienced an almost immediate panic attack upon walking in to a disaster of a room that has been neglected since the 70s (mind you this was during pre-planning with only 5 days until the start of school). I desperately needed the time to begin planning my year, but the classroom was in no where near useable condition, so triaging definitely took priority. It's been crazy guys. I've cried pretty much every single day (usually more than once..) between processing this grief and the chaos that has been this job thus far.

With that said... Wrapping up my second week today, I've finally begun to adjust, taking ownership and pride in my little 3D and Film families. I have kids from absurdly different skill levels in my classes--most averaging between 3-4 sections (so I'll have 3D Studio I, & II, with Pre IBs... sometimes even first year IBs) in the same room, which is a hefty challenge in and of itself. What's more, I'm brand-spanking new at all this with only a small collection of usable lesson plans, none at all for film, to plan my year. Our classroom also has next to no usable supplies left over from last year with a pretty meager budget devoted to buying new supplies. But let me tell you guys, we have been chugging along these past two weeks, and I've received more love and support than I could have imagined in trying to juggle all of this.

For example...

From the student who shook my hand.. A good reason to want to cry in class.

I've raised around $600.00 from my students alone, which appears to be a record in the department so far... nearly doubling my supply budget for this year. In the first two weeks alone! I've already established great relationships with some of my students, especially the ones I anticipated potentially causing problems... wanted to nip those suckers in the bud right away, and I haven't had a single reported classroom management problem thus far, although some have reeeeeaaaaaally gotten me close. I've received an endless stream of support from faculty, loved ones, and even students in trying to process this grief. Some students shook my hand or gave me a hug at the end of that lesson.. which, small gesture though it was, went a long way. I've even seen some incredible work from my students in just two weeks, and we haven't even started a big studio project yet. It's been one heck of a ride so far, but we're getting there, together, and I'm excited to see where we go.

With that said, I'm glad I waited until this week to write this post because last week's outcomes would have been far more bleak. Given all the advice that has been bestowed upon me in the past three weeks, I wanted to take this opportunity to extend a few suggestions myself, to any other first year teachers out there who may be in a similar situation. It's not easy... it's not going to start getting easier either, but it will certainly be rewarding and worth you blood, sweat, and tears... So to any first year teachers out there who are convinced it's time to throw in the towel, like I was last week, here are some suggestion for what really helped me:

1. Breathe.

If you're anything like me, you're prone to quickly becoming overwhelmed, leading to a panic. No matter what is happening, whether it is immediate and in your room, whether it is after school as you plan, or before even starting, take time to breathe. Focus on where you are, slow your breaths, and remember that, one way or another, you're going to get through this... and you never have to make it through on your own. Reach out, say you need help, heck, even tell someone you're not ok and you're freaking out. Trust me, they understand, we've all been there. Remember you're the priority here... your students will survive with or without you, but you can't survive if you don't take care of yourself.

2. Forgive yourself often and freely.

On that note, please, pleeeeaaaaase forgive yourself for not being the perfect teacher you want to be. Time and time again I have been told by veteran teachers that your first year of teaching is about surviving. I know it's not what you want to hear, and I know you want to be the exception, but again, remember that you come first. Don't spend everyday working late planning. Don't over exert yourself trying to come up with and execute the best plans. Even the best plans fail, and that's ok. You're learning just as much as your students are right now. If you're straight with them, they'll forgive you, but first and foremost, you have to be willing to forgive yourself. I've been struggling with severe depression over the past few weeks and I had to make the decision to prioritize myself and my health, knowing that if I didn't, I wouldn't make it to a second year of teaching. This is my passion, and I was ready to give up on it because I was so incredibly overwhelmed... take a step back, look at the big picture. You're going to be the teacher you want to be, one day... but that level of expertise takes years to cultivate. Be patient with yourself, you'll get there.

3. Find your tribe, and more importantly, appreciate them.

I can't tell you how many hours I've spent with my partner crying as he's tried to console me and figure out how to keep me from quitting my job. I can't tell you how many hours I've vented to other art teachers looking for the encouragement I desperately needed to regain the confidence I have been so miserably lacking. You cannot walk this road alone. Teaching is a collaborative practice by nature, there is absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out for support. You have everything to gain from reaching out. Again, we've all been there, you're not alone and we've got you. If any of this is resonating with you so far, please feel free to reach out! I'd love to talk and support you :)

4. Remind yourself why you do what it is you do.

There are going to be days where you feel compelled to lose all faith in your students. Take a step back and remember that what's getting to you in this moment is a very small portion of your student population, and there are people in your class who look forward to your time together. In the moments where you're panicked, overwhelmed, blown, infuriated, or scared... remember why you got into this to begin with. You knew this wasn't going to be easy. Sure, maybe you didn't think it was going to be this hard, but nothing is ever exactly like we expect or hope. Use that to your advantage; let everyday be a new adventure. Give your kids a fresh start. Give yourself a fresh start. Everyday you have the opportunity to grow and be better for your students. If you can't remember why you get out of bed every morning to go to school at the butt crack of dawn, you need to have a hard conversation with yourself until you remember why. Write it down, reflect on it, and never let it go. You need it now more than ever.


5. Listen.

Listen to your faculty, listen to your students, and most importantly, listen to yourself. I've gotten a tremendous amount of mixed advice over the past few weeks. Some good, some not so good (at least for me). You know what works for you, or you're going to find out real soon. Trust your gut and trust your instinct. Be receptive of your students' critiques and responses. If you're in high school like I am, these come all the time without you even having to ask for them. Grow a thick skin... the sooner the better, but recognize that they're might be some truth to what they're saying. Ask for their advice, their expectations, and their suggestions. They'll appreciate it, I've already seen it. These kids don't get treated like people very often, and they're not used to having the opportunity to claim ownership of their voices. Give them that right, listen to them, and they'll be on your side before you know it.

From our "A Little Bit About Me" zine project first week. Great way to start getting to know the students!

Hopefully some of this was helpful to you as you begin your journey (or better understanding where I am in mine)! Stay tuned for more to come. I've got some more posts and resources for you coming up. Here's to new starts.

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