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I read a recent blog post by Bernard Bull that inspired me to write my own similar post. He wrote a letter to his eighteen-year-old self about his learning and education. It made me think about what I would say if I were to write a letter to my younger twenty-something teaching self. I started teaching promptly after I graduated college in the late 1980s. Like many new teachers, I found that each year was new in some way. Changes in schools, classrooms, and cities marked those first few years. I had a special education class. I had a regular second-grade class. In all those years, I had the great blessing of teaching in Lutheran schools, something I hadn’t originally expected would be possible with my interest in special education. They weren’t bad years at all, but there are a few things that I know now that I wish I knew then. How about you? What would you write to your younger teaching self? Here’s what I wish I could say to that younger version of myself.
Dear Miss McLaughlin,
Congratulations! You’re living your dream of being a teacher! I know it doesn’t look exactly how you expected, but you are exactly where the Lord wants you, and He will use you to serve His children.
Stop worrying so much. It’s going to leave a wrinkle in your brow that you won’t be able to get rid of in when you are fifty-ish, and all that worrying isn’t helping. Notice that I didn’t say, Stop caring. Keep caring for your students as much as you do; that’s essential. Continue to pray for your students and the other teachers you are working with; God will provide the answers in surprising ways.
Don’t confuse enthusiasm with knowledge. Be humble; you don’t know as much as you think you do. Stay excited about learning new ways to teach and new ways to understand your students. Teaching is exhausting; don’t let that exhaustion damper your enthusiasm.
Study more about autism and related areas of behavior and language. This field will grow and change drastically over the next two decades. Even though you don’t have any students with classic autism, you have students who would benefit from some of the strategies and understanding that help students with autism. Drink in everything you can on this topic, and see where it might apply to your students.
Go to basketball games, volleyball games, soccer games, and other extra-curricular activities. You didn’t play sports in school, so you don’t know how important it is to your students. I know it’s a long day and you’re tired in the evening, but go to some games. You’ll have more fun than you expect. It’s so good to see your students and parents outside of the classroom setting. Get to know the whole child. Share your students’ successes; share their struggles. It will mean a lot to them that you’re there cheering for them, and it will help you be a better teacher.
Keep calm and … What I really mean to say is, use your quiet voice more than your loud voice. Raising your voice isn’t helping with discipline as much as you think it is. Do more research in the area of behavior-management. You’re doing some good things, but find more positive ways to motivate your students. When you’re old, those times that you yelled at a student when you shouldn’t have will haunt you. Think about that before you open your mouth.
Read more fiction. You read a lot on the topic of education, and that’s great, don’t stop. Find time to read good literature that feeds a different part of your brain and heart. Good children’s literature counts here too. Balance your reading interests a little more.
Write about your students. Not for anyone else, but for yourself. I know it’s hard to imagine right now, but you’ll forget so many details of these precious students in your care. You’ll want to remember them and learn from them later. Writing about them now will help you process what you know about them and how they learn while you’re teaching them—and you’ll enjoy looking back on those writings later. Use a computer or your typewriter, though; you have terrible handwriting.
Stay in God’s Word and don’t neglect your worship life. This is what will fuel all that you do in both your professional and personal life. Just because you do devotions with your staff and talk about Jesus during the day doesn’t mean you’re filling your own spiritual tank. You know this, but it never hurts to hear it again. Keep going to church.
Don’t despair when the devil seems to be churning up the waters at every turn. God has placed you where you are, and He has work for you to do. Love His children. Rest in the knowledge that you don’t have to be their Savior; they already have a Savior in Jesus. Love those He has placed in your midst to serve with you. God loves you and will use you for His purposes.
Hang in there, Miss McLaughlin. It’s all going to be just fine, but it may surprise you.
Love from your future self,
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