20 Years, 20 Things

This is my 19th year as a teacher with the Vancouver School Board. If I add up a few months working as a substitute teacher, a temporary contract and two years teaching abroad, I think I can legitimately claim that I have been teaching for 20 years.

 20 Years, 20 Things. What I have learned after 20 years in the classroom. There's a Book for That

After 20 years, what do I know? That there still is and always will be much to learn. I find that exciting and inspiring, not daunting. However, after teaching this long and still loving my job, I can say I have learned a thing or two (20 things in fact – one to honour each year) and in the September of a new school year when pencils are still sharp and excitement is in the air, I made a list. Because that’s what teachers do.

In no particular order because they are all equally important, some wisdom shared:

1. Teach the children in front of you. Not the children you think should be there. Don’t take a curriculum and impose it on a group of learners. Start with who your students are and where they are. Go from there. Take them far!

2. Relationships, relationships, relationships. Without them, good luck. With them, wow!

3. Choose celebration over cynicism. Educators can easily bemoan what is happening in education. Dwell in that place and you will be blind to the wonder and magic that happens everyday with the students in our classrooms. Feel lucky about that and take time to celebrate the daily learning, growth and joy.

4. Laugh a lot. Kids are really funny. Laugh with them and stress dissipates. For everyone.

5. Be one of many teachers in the room. Promote mentorship between your students. Children learn beautifully from each other when we set up learning environments that promote this.

 20 Years, 20 Things. What I have learned after 20 years in the classroom. There's a Book for Tha

6. Make curiousity as valuable, if not more valuable, than the acquisition of specific knowledge. When we spend time collecting facts, we have a finite collection. When we wonder and build on each other’s questions, there are endless possibilities. We don’t need all the answers. We do need lots of questions.

7. Don’t collect “stuff” to facilitate your teaching (files, units, boxes of ____), collect ideas, collect mentors, collect blogs to follow. The environment will thank you. Your students will thank you. You will thank you.

8. Fill your room with student art. Not only does it create a beautiful place and a source of student pride at every turn, but in the regular making of art, so much happens. Creativity. Risk taking. Problem solving.

9. Take nothing personally

10. Can you answer this question: “What one thing do I want my students to really learn this year?” There is no right answer. But it’s a really great question.

 20 Years, 20 Things. What I have learned after 20 years in the classroom. There's a Book for Tha

11. Value community. We are one of many people teaching the children in our classrooms. Students come from varied, interesting and diverse backgrounds. Honour their parents. The extended families. The community that surrounds the school. Make connections to the key players – community centre staff, public library staff, recreation program staff, community health nurses, etc. We are all in this together.

12. Say yes a lot. And when you are tempted to say no, ask a question. The room becomes a happier place.

13.  Be a reader. A voracious one. And then share your reading life with your students.

14. Learn. Children will teach you countless things daily if you open your eyes and your mind. Acknowledge when it happens. Just the other day, a child demonstrated compassion in a situation when I had reacted with frustration. I thanked him publicly for the lesson and then immediately acted on what he had taught me. I am a learner in my room as well as a teacher.

15. Learn from the wisdom of others. So many people are doing so many amazing things in classrooms all over the world. Tap into that. Begin sharing. And borrow the brilliance.

 20 Years, 20 Things. What I have learned after 20 years in the classroom. There's a Book for Tha

16. At the end of everyday, make sure you can think of at least one moment that was magic. Savour it and smile.

17. Adore your students. Interact with them so that they always feel this. You won’t need systems to manage behaviour, you will have relationships. When things don’t go well, when mistakes are made, when conflicts arise, the mutual respect and care will carry you through.

18. Ask yourself this question: “What lifetime habits are being learned in this classroom?”

19. Be a storyteller. Our classrooms are a window into how we as a society look after our children. Speak up.

20. There’s a book for that! The power of books is endless. Read to your students daily multiple times. Sharing books together builds community. Shakes up thinking. Touches hearts. Builds knowledge. Connects us.

 20 Years, 20 Things. What I have learned after 20 years in the classroom. There's a Book for Tha

What would be on your list? What has your teaching journey taught you? Please share, disagree, elaborate, question and wonder in the comment section.

34 thoughts on “20 Years, 20 Things

  1. I absolutely loved reading your story and thoughts about children and teaching. I am a retired primary, JK/SK teacher, two years now, and I miss it terribly. Lucky for me my daughter teaches and lets me come and visit or be a part of her class.
    Your words could have been written by me. You and I share the same beliefs about children and how they grow and learn, best!
    Thank you so very much and I would love to hear more about you and your students.
    Sincerely,
    Debbie Baer

    P.S. Most of my years of teaching took place with the Waterloo Region District School Board in Ontario

  2. Carrie, you make me want to be a teacher. Or a student. I’m not sure which. I had great teachers when I was growing up, and I continue to have the highest esteem for the profession. It’s such a pleasure to read your posts, and this one in particular.

  3. What have Iearned in my 19 years? Patience. I had a bit when I first started teaching and now I have a lot more – it multiplied every time I moved to a lower grade – I’ve now worked my way down to Kindergarten-and built up a large supply of patience. Your #4 is something I used to worry would “wear off” the longer I taught – I probably laugh more now. I love #17: that’s how I feel about teaching! #9 rings so true-that’s what age+experience has taught me.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Carrie – wonderful post!
    Sharon 🙂

    • Thanks so much for commenting Sharon! Patience is something that is just a must – especially with little ones. I think we can have lots of space for patience when we really focus on the children and not all of the other hullabaloo!

  4. Thank you Carrie for this wonderful post. As Debbie stated above, we have much in common. Building relationships and creating community are integral in my grade 6/7 classes. What is one thing I would add? Be a learner alongside your students. Let them see you learn new things, tell them when you are trying out new ideas and let them know when things don’t work out as well as when they do. Students love knowing we are life long learners.

    • Well said Anne-Marie. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. I completely agree that it is so important to let students know when we struggle with new things too. Sharing our learning journey is so important.

  5. Carrie – thank you for these heartfelt words. Your post brought tears to my eyes and left me feeling full of such gratitude that I am in this amazing profession. Everything you stated rings true for me but reading your words was a reminder as we begin a new school year what really matters most in our jobs – our students. Laughing, learning, building community, sharing our stories, reading books together, celebrating the voices, wonderings and artistic talents of our students – these are the things that matter most. What I might add to your list, as it has become so important for me over the last few years, is to teach with intention; have purposing purpose for each lesson I teach and ensuring my students understand the WHY? behind their learning. Thank you for your beautiful post, my friend.

    • We really are so lucky to do this aren’t we? I always say sometimes I sit in my room and feel like I should be paying admission. The kids are so hilarious and brilliant and stop me in my tracks with certain comments/questions. Very important point – knowing the WHY of what we do. Thanks Adrienne.

  6. Finally found time to read your celebration of 20 years, and most important, your learning. All twenty are just wonderful-maybe 20 blog posts now, Carrie! You could give a few lectures to students learning to be teachers… I would put # 2, relationships & #3, Curiosity at the top always. So critical to build the relationships & the community, & to foster the love of questions. Thanks for taking time to share your beliefs.

    • Thank you Linda – both for reading and for the wonderful comment. I don’t think I am up for 20 blog posts! Love that you also think relationships and community need to feature big. It’s the ticket to everything in my opinion.

  7. Carrie! Not sure if you remember me, but just saw your post on another teacher friend’s FB – this is amazing; so well written and so true!
    Hope you and your lovely family are well 🙂

      • Yep, that’s me! Say hello to Finn and Bea for me 🙂
        Things are great – on mat leave this year with my baby girl and enjoying every moment!
        Reading this makes me miss the classroom so much more than I already do – can’t wait to get back to the kids!

      • Congratulations! The kids will be thrilled to know you have had a baby. I will pass on your greetings. Those children will be waiting for you. Enjoy this precious time!

  8. Hi Carrie,

    I am a VSB teacher as well and have just discovered your blog and this fabulous list. I smiled and nodded as I slowly read and absorbed it all! Every teacher should take the time to read it.

    One thing that I have noticed is the power of simply taking a deep breath and slowing down. I have found that whenever I notice things are getting amped up around me, it is because I have allowed the stress (of external pressures, of my own life, of my expectations, or of a child or group of children) to take over the energy of the room. A deep breath and tuning into the children right in front of me–as you say–can re-set this, or even better yet, prevent this.

    I look forward to following your blog and reading more. Thank you!

    Arwyn

    • Thanks Arwyn. I am so pleased that this post hit home for you. I love your point about slowing down. So true. It is really in the end time saving and stress preventing when we slow down and really be with our students. The rushing to get somewhere prevents us from some of the best teaching and learning opportunities.

  9. 20 years! wow you must have started when you were 5 🙂 Thanks for the post Carrie – you’ve certainly pulled out the key parts for being an inspired educator. Glad to have shared many years of laughter working with you and now hearing the stories. Loved the note from Gracie – I remember her coming into the class as a baby waiting for her cute brother! Hope you don’t mind but I’m sharing your post with my teacher ed students – they’re just heading out on practicum shortly and I’m sure would love the post 🙂 big hug to you.

    • Yes, it was when I was 5 actually 🙂 This note was written by Gracie last year – I treasure it. I too think often of when she used to come into our room at the end of the day at three years old, do mindful breathing with us and help me dismiss the class. You should see her now! Thanks for sharing – feel free! Of course! I am so fortunate to treasure each day after all of this time! Seymour, of course, has that magic.

  10. Thanks, Carrie! As I start the year in a new school, I look around the classroom and think, “Is it INVITING? Is it WELCOMING? Does it encourage CURIOSITY?” And then I ask myself the same things, “Am I INVITING? Am I WELCOMING? Am I encouraging CURIOSITY?” Also, “Am I taking time to LISTEN to my students more than speaking TO them?”

  11. Thanks for articulating the thoughts of inner city teachers and staff so clearly, Carrie! I couldn’t agree with you more….Also, a big “thank you” too for taking one of our QA families into your school. I’m so glad IJ is in your class — she’s an artistic young lady and you’ll love teaching her!

    • You are so right Jamine The newest addition to our class has settled in beautifully and is very very happy. I appreciate your comment and all of your help catching our staff up on families that we share so we can all do the best for kids!

  12. Pingback: Sunday Salon: What I’ve Been Reading Online | the dirigible plum

  13. And it is possible…I can admire you and your work even more! This is so beautiful. I wish we worked in the same country, state, town, building 😉 I am sharing this via e-mail with my school staff right now. As we launch into standardized testing and online curriculum mapping, the life drains of the passion behind teaching, perhaps this can help light the way forward just a little more. Thank you Carrie!

    • Oh Nicole – thanks so much for this. I too wish we worked in the same building! Can you imagine how great that would be?! I would be honoured if this brings a little light to anyone’s vision. Thank you for sharing!

  14. “Teach the children in front of you. Not the children you think should be there. Don’t take a curriculum and impose it on a group of learners. Start with who your students are and where they are. Go from there. Take them far!” – Love this one especially – wise words indeed. You’ve been quoted on my classroom website:) Great post.

  15. This is such a great post, Carrie! You blow my mind. I think we need to remind ourselves why we are doing what we are doing, especially in this crazy world where our students are so stressed out and anxious. I am all about slowing down, decluttering our learning, and building upon our relationships in our classrooms and school communities. Classrooms need to be safe, yet nurturing, and provide engagement. Can’t believe I have been teaching for 20 years too…seems like I started yesterday!
    Cheers
    Marielle

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