I am not the first new teacher to feel vulnerable; but when you enter that mental realm of 'limbo', it certainly feels like you're the first.
Eagerness meets uncertainty = I, feeling a bit topsy-turvy in the wake of receiving my official teaching certificate. I am in the thick of applying to job opportunities, and sandwiched between two states, still working to wrap up certification requirements for the second state; conserving heart in the midst of the few e-mails I’ve gotten, beginning with “your accomplishments are commendable, but …”, and holding breath on those that have been submitted and reviewed; and pulling from that well of inner knowing that I am a great educator in-the-making - I had a good student-teaching experience, I feel like I grew exponentially, and more important - I have the burning desire to push my comfort levels and expand beyond what I think I know about teaching at this very moment.
At the same time, I have sneaking thoughts, especially in the wake of all this talk about the poor quality (overall) of teacher preparation programs in the nation – did I pick the right program? Will my choice doom or secure my place in a school? At the very end of the day, I still maintain the faith, knowing that my program wasn’t perfect (no such thing), but that it lifted the curtain onto what teaching is all about - I entered with a vague conception, based on my past experiences and "playing" the role in my childhood memories of what it meant to be a “teacher”, and I left in awe of the craft and with a new world of respect for quality teachers. I have conviction and commitment; I’m open-minded and receptive; I’m ready and wanting to be part of a learning community, something greater than myself.
Looking ahead to the fall, I still have hopes that a full-time opportunity will align with my stars; at the very least, I know I’ll be substituting in a couple of chosen districts. In the meantime, how can a burgeoning yet slightly detached teacher build professional knowledge and prepare for the day that the phone rings with that first life-changing job offer? The following are some of my chosen directions:
Forming a digital "Professional Learning Community" or PLC (definite buzz word) from the ground-up. To start externally, from outside a school, requires some purpose and strategy. And it involves contributing, not just consuming. There are unlimited social media avenues – Facebook; Edmodo; Twitter; Edutopia; and other online communities, through which to connect. Though I have accounts with all of these outlets, I think the key is finding one or two where you can start to maintain an active presence. This is currently where I am now, and I'm taking this time to ask myself (literally, almost as I write this post) - what is it exactly that I want to being taking away from, and giving to, these communities? These goals will certainly change as one's teaching career progresses, but finding a starting place seems like a smart idea.
Collecting information, or “curating”, teaching resources and inspirations - my two preferences for this task are Evernote (here’s a great article through MindShift about using Evernote with students to curate information) and the ever-visual Pinterest. Never again will you have to think to yourself, "Oh, what a super idea! I should write that one down", and then forget the thought ever entered your brain 24 hours later.
Subscribing to publications to keep abreast of news and research – EdWeek, ASCD, NCTM are some of my top picks, but there are certainly others. The key here is to keep up and not let the newsletters sit in your inbox. Reading every article in detail may not be possible or efficient, but culling is a worthwhile art. Everyone will have an individual approach; I open my e-mails every few days and click one or two articles from each that appear interesting or newsworthy. If I don’t have time to read at that very moment, I open a new browser window and leave it for later; or, you can use a bookmarking site like Instapaper. I set aside time in my schedule each day to process, clipping those articles that I feel may be of value and saving in my Teaching Resources or Professional Development folders in my Evernote.
Keeping a blog, kind of like this one; doesn’t need to be anything fancy or destined for blogger awards (though more power if one comes your way). I've decided to use mine as a means of exploring and tracking ideas and reflecting, a public journal if you will.
Finding other professional development opportunities, which can be as simple as a webinar – there are many free ones offered through EdWeek and ASCD and other national organizations. Take advantage by making relevant notes and posing at least one question for discussion. Searching for and keeping your eye out for local conferences or events through professional organizations also offers the invaluable opportunity to meet other educators, and relates back to the PLC idea; and keep your ears open wherever you go - you never know whom you might meet!
Last but never least, tending to one's self and nurturing your curiosities and interests - reading, volunteering, creating, exploring, whatever your hobbies may be, whatever it is that moves you, take time every week to do something that "fills the well". You will gain perspective and insights on who you are, including your role as an educator, and you will help to maintain the mental balance that is imperative to attracting good happenings.
I send these ideas out to other blossoming teachers and ask – what are your "staying warm and moving-on-up" strategies in this period of seeming limbo???