As I start my 16th year teaching special education, I’ve had the pleasure of spending much of the last couple of weeks with some new teachers, who are just starting out in their careers, and it’s made me reflect on what I believe, who I am, and what the REAL lessons are in education.
1. You know how you’ve been able to go around just calling people “motherfucker” and flipping them off, when they’ve been shitty to you? Yeah, well, you can’t do that anymore from 7am-4pm. The irony is that you are going to be disrespected more in the next ten months, than you have in your ENTIRE life, and you’re going to have to respond to it with a quiet dignity that you didn’t know you possessed. And yes, as long as it doesn’t come out of your mouth…mentally calling an eight-year-old a ‘dickhead’ is perfectly acceptable.
2. I don’t care how amazing your teaching skills are, or how good the lesson is that you planned…it can all be undone with one well-timed fart. Doubt me? Try and pull out your A-Game lesson, two hours after they serve burritos in the cafeteria.
3. That support staff you’ve sorta met? Yeah…start kissing ass now, because if you piss off the nurse, the custodians, the assistants, or God forbid the school secretary…you are so totally screwed. And I mean a solid, up-the-ass, no lube or foreplay, pillow-biter, because those bitches run everything you care about. Even the principal is scared of them, and with good reason.
4. Do not, under any circumstances, get a class pet. It is hell on you, and worse on the animal. No creature on this earth has EVER aspired to be the thing that 35 second-graders annoy the shit out of, on a daily basis. I’m 90% positive that in the Hindi culture, that in order to be reincarnated into a class pet…you have to run over a busload of nuns carrying kittens. If PETA knew half of what was going on in classrooms, they’d forget the fur industry even existed.
5. Password protect your phone NOW. You think I’m kidding, but I have yet to see a school year where a teacher’s phone WASN’T stolen, and I’ve seen them stolen by kids as young as 6. Having to replace your phone sucks, but you know what sucks more? Having no passcode on that thing, and now the entire eighth grade has everyone on campus’ private phone numbers AND those five pictures of your boobs that you sent your ex-boyfriend when you were drunk.
6. Be wary of parents who want to help too much…they’re better spies than any CIA operative, and you are their only interest. If you have a parent who insists on helping, give them off-site assignments like copying papers or planning parties. You want any more convincing? Look at the relief on their own child’s face, every time they leave.
7. The first two years of your career are going to read like the first ten seasons of House. You are going to catch diseases that you didn’t even know existed, and certainly can’t spell, and no amount of hand washing is going to save you from the twenty times a day when a child literally sneezes in your face. Which brings me to…
8. You’re going to spend countless hours of your life on the internet researching new material to enrich your classroom, but I’m about to give you the only website that will get you through this first year, and probably every year after…
To end…I’ll give you my 9th and most important tip…and this one I’m dead serious about, and it’s the one that means the very most to me… The kids you get, are the kids you got. Parents aren’t hiding the good kids at home. You have to find a way to love them…ALL OF THEM…because the one thing I know to be true…kids will not work for people who don’t care about them, and man, do they know. I can name a thousand kids who can’t read, but I can’t name one that doesn’t know when a teacher doesn’t like them. So, please…don’t be that teacher…find a way…
You are going to get kids with a myriad of disabilities and home issues, some of which make them nearly impossible to handle, but try and remember…these kids didn’t ask for them. They didn’t ask to be different or socially screwed up or have shitty parents. And yes, they’ll be a pain in your ass or make horrible choices, and make you want to tear your hair out, but, under it all…they’re kids. They’re scared and sad and confused, and they need you. You might be the first person to find something wonderful about them, that they didn’t even know about themselves. You might be the first person to make them feel safe at school, and give them hope that they CAN do this. You might be the only person who tells them that you love them, and I hope that you do.
I promise that they’ll move mountains for you…if you believe that they can.