To be happy now and content later, you can’t only be focused on reaching goals, because once you reach them, the experience ends.
To truly be happy, you must satisfy both of your selves.
Go get the ice cream, but do so in a way which is meaningful, a way which creates a long-term memory.
Grind away to have money for later, but do so in a way which generates happiness as you work.
See the first post in this series for background.
2. Don’t write daily lesson plans in advance
It seems like a great idea - do all that preparation work during the summer so that you have less stress while teaching. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that this is one of those rare times where procrastination really pays off.
The problem with planning ahead is that all new teachers, no matter how cynical, have only a theoretical idea of how their classroom will run on a day to day basis. In their minds, classroom procedures will work as planned, resources needed for a lesson will be available, and students will actually be captivated by ‘interesting’ lesson hooks.
The reality of meeting students will always change that mental model. In the first few weeks on the job, a new teacher will change classroom routines to figure out what works. It’s also extremely difficult for new teachers to predict the amount of material that students can learn in a single day. Later lessons that build on a particular lesson will always have to be rewritten to account for unmastered skills.
Before the first day of school, I created roughly three weeks of very detailed lesson plans, each with a detailed agenda, fleshed out lesson activities, and ‘interesting’ hook to engage students. Of these, I ended up using only two without modification. The rest I either threw out completely, or rewrote heavily to take into account the daily changes in my classroom. The days that I spent planning during the summer seemed a giant waste of time.
In an ideal world with infinite time to prepare for the first day of teaching, I’d be a huge proponent of planning lesson in advance. Although those lessons would get rewritten later on, it’s good practice for new teachers and helps clarify problems in classroom organization. For most TFA teachers, however, the few weeks of free time between training and beginning school are all about choosing priorities. A new teacher can either spend a few days planning detailed lessons, or setting up a classroom organization theme.
In my view, the most important planning is not daily lessons, but a long term plan. By this I just mean a basic outline of all of the objectives that you plan to teach in the course of a school year. If you teach a skills based course like math or science, then it’s also important that you have a definite ordering for all of these objectives. Having a sense of where your classroom is heading is essential for linking lessons together and providing your students with connections between topics.
As a new teacher, you gain so much insight and experience in those first few weeks on the job. By procrastinating on daily lessons, your plans become so much better by incorporating all that knowledge. Waiting until the weekend before (or even the night before) allows you to spend the upfront time on the important tasks, like long term planning, or brainstorming classroom motivation rather than writing plans that would just have to be rewritten anyways.
There’s a lot of advice for new teachers. Leading up to my first year as a teacher, I was inundated with tips, suggestions, strategies, frameworks and ready-to-go resources. Although all of it was given with good intentions, it was difficult to find the few pieces of advice that were relevant and useful to me and my personality.
The following series of posts is my effort to distill the few pieces of advice that I wished I had taken to heart before my first day as a teacher. Since I was a TFA high school math teacher, many of these suggestions will be more applicable to that program, subject, and grade level, but I believe many could have a broader audience.
1. Find a ‘teaching recipe’ early - observe as many classrooms as you can
Many traditional graduate teaching programs have a requirement that students log a hundred or more hours of classroom observations before they even begin student teaching. TFA’s boot-camp preparation obviously have that much time, but that doesn’t mean TFA corps members can’t observe classrooms on their own - ideally in a classroom with a similar population of students as their assigned TFA region. Even visiting only a few classrooms during spring break or immediately after finals can pay a huge dividend later on.
Setting up a brand new classroom requires tons of non curriculum questions. Seating arrangements, classroom management strategies, routines to sharpen a pencil or use the restroom, ways to organize the tons and tons of paper that you collect in a day, etc. Having an efficient classroom that works with your personality is critical for gaining the respect of your students and maintaining sanity.
Most teaching advice books will provide you with plenty of options for each of these questions, but they almost never show how one interacts with another. For example, if you choose to arrange your kids in groups, then it might make sense to have group folders to make returning papers easier. It might also make sense to assign students to groups and attempt to motivate them using competition between groups. Putting students in groups can also mean that lecture based instruction may not work as well as you hope.
My point is not to suggest a strategy - there is no “right” choice for any of these, each teacher has to figure out what works for their particular classroom. I spent most of my first four months as a teacher, mixing and matching strategies and procedures, trying to find the fit for my classroom. But the best way to figure out what combinations work is to visit the classrooms of other teachers and see how they mix together these ingredients.
Through observation, you may find a perfect teacher that you want to model or may you may only pick up a few ideas, but comparing these ‘recipes’ before you actually start teaching will give you a head start on finding the mixture that will work for you.
My 2009 reading list is much much smaller than this one (132 books in a year?!), but I thought it worthwhile to list the few books this year that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to others.
- The book does a really good job portraying the life of a typical TFA CM - the issues that make TFA so challenging don’t change much from LA to NYC. Doubly recommended for anyone considering applying to TFA.
Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
- I thought this was better than Interpreter of Maladies - Lahiri’s first collection of short stories
- Both of these are collections of his previously published essays, but Gawande writes so well and so compellingly about the problems in medicine. He became one of my favorite authors this year.
The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
- Entertaining read that really shows the dark side of the Indian ruling class. Adiga’s style reminds me a little of Vonnegut, which is a positive in my eyes.
Man’s Search for Meaning - Viktor E Frankl
- A classic quick read