Hello Soon-To-Be First Year Teacher

Monday, April 20, 2015

Hello Soon-To-Be First Year Teacher,
    I have two months to go until I can say that I have completed [survived] my first year of teaching. As I reflect on the past few months, I am flooded with a mix of emotions and a hundred crazy stories. I have learned SO much this year about teaching, about children, about working with others, and about myself. I'm so excited for YOU as you begin this journey. I hope that this can be some sort of encouragement to you, Soon-To-Be First Year Teacher, throughout this upcoming year.

1. It's impossible to know all the answers and that's okay. 

As a teacher, you have to make hundreds of small decisions throughout the day. I had no idea how many decisions I would have to make and how many I would be completely clueless about! Students ask you questions, co-workers ask you questions, and parents ask you questions. In all reality, there is no way you are going to know the answer to them all, but sometimes you just have to make a decision and go with it (at least for the "small" ones) or simply, admit you do not know the answer, but you will look into it (for the "big" ones). If you are wrong, you can humbly admit you are wrong and learn from your mistake. If you are right, then go with it and celebrate the fact that you learned something. Either way, make sure that take the time to find the right answer from those that are more experienced than you and learn from your uncertainty.

2. Pace yourself. 

The beginning of the year is crazy. You have to decorate bulletin boards, arrange furniture, collaborate with professionals and service providers (I'm a special education teacher so I have to make sure all of my kiddos are getting their service hours in), figure out a daily schedule (and staff schedules and bathroom schedule) that works for your class and their needs, train your staff of paraprofessionals (if you have them), meet parents and students, and attend several training sessions for your staff and new curriculum. Oh yeah...and you have to plan and TEACH! Like I said, IT'S CRAZY and it's so easy to become consumed by all that you need to do and get done, but I have learned that there will always be work that needs to be [can be] done. Do not work so hard at the beginning of the year that you burn yourself out. Set a reasonable time that you will leave each day. Set aside one day that you will stay late at work to plan and prep. What you don't get done one week, you can work on the next. Don't go into work every weekend or feel like you are a bad teacher if you don't. You will be so glad that you paced yourself and set boundaries at the beginning of the year when it comes to February and March (I am learning this lesson the hard way).

3. Passion can go a long way. 

Take the time to write out why you want to be a teacher. Before you start teaching, before you start your career, write down all the reasons why you are going into this field. Type them up, make them cute, and place them somewhere in your classroom that you can visibly see it day to day. This will be a good reminder throughout the upcoming year. You chose this field for a reason. You are passionate about kids and learning and about developing future generations. All the confusion you may feel throughout the year, all the tiredness you experience, all the tears that you shed are all worth it. It will get better (I still tell myself that and others still tell me that). Make sure to remind yourself (and put others in your life that will remind you) why you are passionate about teaching.

GOOD LUCK! You can do it!

Teaching Portfolio

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I was so happy to receive several email responses to my last post about applications and interviews. Many of you are curious about my teaching portfolio so I thought I would write a post with some specific details about my portfolio.

As I mentioned in my previous post, my portfolio only has five tabs. You can search for "teaching portfolio" on pinterest and numerous pictures and blog posts will appear. I spent some time looking at what other people have done and then decided what I wanted to do. I only chose five tabs because it is simple for me and it is simple for the interviewee. I feel like if there are too many tabs it can just be overwhelming. I wanted to create something that was useful for me to use during my interview. For example, when asked a question about classroom management or parent communication, I wanted to be able to flip to that tab and show specific examples and pictures of my classroom behavior plan and parent communication. It's important to remember that I am a special education teacher and so my tabs and topics may look different than the tabs and topics that a general education teachers would choose.

This tab includes my cover letter, resume, a copy of my credential, and proof of passing my "teacher" tests (in California we have several tests we have to pass). You might also include you the proof that you passed your TB test or any other special certifications that you have that pertain to the job.

This tab includes my weekly communication log, my IEP parent input form (download it here), an example of my "What are we learning? sheet, and a few other forms that I have used to communicate with parents throughout the year.

This tab includes a picture of my whole class behavior management system (you can purchase this system here). It also includes other examples of my behavior visuals. For example, I included a rotation card, a "first then" card, and a token economy card.

This tab includes sample lesson plans that I had written for my formal observation, visuals that I used for those lesson plans, a social story that I wrote, an example data sheet, and an example worksheet that I created.

This tab included my list of references and reference letters that I have collected throughout the years.

Note to new teachers, for my first round of interviews right out of the credential program, I did not have a teaching portfolio. Looking back, I wish that I would have put something together because it is so much easier to show and explain a system than it is to just explain it, especially when you are nervous. I know as a new teacher right out of the credential program you might not have a lot of forms and worksheets. Spend some time with your master teacher, looking at blogs, and on teachers pay teachers and collect some forms and worksheets that you imagine that you will use in you future classroom. They might not end up working for you or for your classroom, but you will at least be able to show your potential future employers that you have a vision for your classroom. If you have any questions or would like some worksheets or forms, please do not hesitate to email me.

Good luck to each and every one of you! Remember, show your passion and love for teaching. Knowledge and education is obviously important, but passion and love cannot be taught.

Applications & Interviews

Saturday, April 18, 2015
I have been busy over the past couple of weeks with lots of triennial IEPs, departments meeting, finishing up BTSA, and.......(drumroll) interviews! That's right, after a lot of thought and prayer, I have decided to move back to my hometown to be closer to my family. I moved to my current location for college, completed my credential at the same college that I completed my undergraduate work at, and then landed a job right after that a few cities over. I have absolutely LOVED my time living where I live and working where I work, but I so so miss my family. It's time to move HOME! I had an interview two weeks ago and then two interviews this week and officially accepted a position (and told my current employer that I will be leaving) on Friday. I feel so at peace about it. It is, of course, sad to leave my current job-my AMAZING principal, co-workers, aides, and students, but I have no doubt that I making the right decision for me in my current season of life. What grade will I be teaching? I do not know! I accepted the position without knowing, but I do know it is a great district with great support and it will not be younger than kindergarten or older than 8th grade. I can handle that. I'm so so excited!

After searching for a job, I have a few insights for those of you that are going through the same process:

1) Check for jobs regularly (EVERYDAY)

2) Apply early

3) Go to job/teaching fairs and stop by the booths of the districts that you are interested in...even if you already have an interview. 
This really helped me. I walked into two interviews already knowing at least one of my interviewees. This helped me feel confident and more at ease during the interview.

4) Don't be afraid to show your fun, creative side.
I created a fun, colorful flyer with an "all about me" section and pictures of myself, my bulletin boards, and some of my core values. I handed it out at the job fair to districts that I had already applied to and given my cover letter and resume to. It made me stand out and also made the representatives' day a bit more interesting. The same ole, same ole resumes and cover letters have to get boring after a while.

5) If you get more than one job offer, create a pro and con list (at least mentally) and talk it over with someone else that you trust and that knows about the profession. 
I talked with my wonderful, amazing, Godly master teacher the night before I made a decision and she helped me have so much clarity about my decision.

6) Bring a portfolio....or at least a few work samples and pictures.
This helps your interviewees have a better picture of who you are in your classroom. My portfolio has five sections: Professional Documents, Parent Communication, Behavior Management, Lessons & Activities, & References.

Feel free to contact me at delightfullydedicatedspecialed@gmail.com if you have any specific questions about the application and interview process. I would be more than happy to answer them. Just a random note, going through the interview process after having a year of experience is SO much easier and SO much more enjoyable than the interview process right out of the credential program.


The Power of a Laugh

Monday, April 13, 2015

One of my non-verbal students recently received an iPad with the AMAZING Dynavox Compass app downloaded on it for communication. We were relaxing a bit after lunch listening to our ocean sounds (and pretending we were laying on the beach getting a tan...at least I was) and I hear an automated, "that's funny!" and a little giggle...and then more giggles from two or three other students. It was music to my ears. My little class clown is finally able to SPEAK and make jokes and be mischievous with his peers. There is nothing like seeing him light up and giggle and laugh. It brings so much joy to my heart. It did not take him long to find his other two favorite phrases: "I want goldfish crackers," and "you're a turkey." He just looks at me, presses "You're a turkey" and giggles and giggles. The jokes on you, Miss Dill. I love it.

I feel like I am learning to enjoy those simple moments and become a facilitator of more moments just like it. Today I made sure to spend at least five minutes with two of my non-verbal kiddos and the ipad. We just talked about their weekend and I asked them random questions. We talked. We laughed. We played Simon Says. For the first part of the year, it was so difficult for me to figure out how to incorporate the iPad as a tool for communication into instruction. It felt so forced. It wasn't until I just tried to chit chat and laugh with my students, putting aside my own teaching "to-do" list, that I became an effective communicator (and teacher) with the iPad. I'm learning a whole new definition of speaking, friendship, and laughing from my ten precious students and I am so very thankful for that.
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