What they don't teach in college...

Updated: Jul 14

I'm sure everyone graduates from high school feeling unprepared for the "real world" and then experience the same feeling again if they graduate from college. Let me begin by saying I am grateful for the gift of having a college education. I had an incredible experience with professors who felt like family and made many life-long friends, during this time. I do not take for granted my parent's making it possible for me to attend college. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

I know I have had many conversations with fellow educators who shared similar wakeup calls, post-college life. I do not doubt that every major, or profession, has a list of "things" that any education couldn't have prepared you for. Real-life experience is the only way to learn certain things. I tried my best to compile a list of what advice, insight, perspective, "wisdom," I could give fellow educators who are fresh out of college. I'm sure I missed a lot, but I think this list is a decent place to start.

1. Balance

This word gets thrown around in the day-to-day struggles of life. What does balance look like? How do you actually have balance? If you figure it out, let me know. I do think that I could have benefited from having more conversations from seasoned educators about the balance of our profession. Sure, there are other jobs that you take work home with you. But the education world can make this all extremely tricky. There are some people who only do school-related work during contract hours and there are others who eat, sleep, and nearly breathe teaching world.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, I encourage you to find ways to balance it all. Make time for yourself, your family, your friends, your hobbies, your interests, and your dreams! If you find the secret to balance, let me know. But don't be afraid to ask other people who have been doing this a lot longer than you how they juggle it all.

2. Relationships with coworkers and administrators

I think this might have been glossed over in college because they were concerned they would force us into thinking everyone was mean? Haha. I do remember professors and educators stressing the importance of not surrounding yourself with toxic people at work, forming your own opinions of students, and avoiding the teacher's lounge if necessary.

Let me first say, each school looks completely different. I am lucky to never have experienced extremely toxic people in a school. But I have been around many negative individuals, which can be so draining. Look for friends in your school building and avoid the rest of them as much as possible. Also, if you have a conflict with another teacher don't be afraid to be direct with them. I can fall into the people pleaser mindset sometimes and end up getting taken advantage of. Stand up for yourself and let your voice be heard. You can be kind and assertive at the same time.

3. Letters of recommendation along the way

I remember the first time I was applying for teaching jobs, I had zero letters of recommendation. I feel like no one told me to grab those. Professors are a wonderful place to start and so are teachers you have field/student teaching with. But over time you'll want to start gathering those letters from people you have worked with closely such as administrators, fellow teachers, intervention specialists, superintendents, etc. And don't forget to grow your list of references too.

4. What do you do if you don't get a job right away? My senior year was a total blur. The summer before my senior year I went to Africa, worked in the student development office on campus all summer and served as the student director of freshman orientation for the fall, took 22 credit hours in the fall to graduate in four years (there was a change in classes/schedules that messed it all up), had my student teaching placement get canceled last minute because my teacher quit, and then got placed with a teacher about to retire who dumped all of the classes on me the second day there with zero curriculum or direction. So yeah...I was a blur.

I think I was just so eager to graduate that I didn't put forth as much effort into job applications because I was trying to survive. Then the fall rolled around and I had no full-time job, so I started my subbing adventure. I subbed all over the place and then stayed in one district the final six months of the year.

All of this to say, it is ok if you don't land a full-time position. Depending on where you live, the jobs might be slim picking and hard to snatch. If your town is small and anything like mine, it's extremely difficult to find teaching jobs. Don't stress and grab what you can! Try to build connections with people and enjoy the learning process of subbing. Write down any good ideas you like from the classes you visit.

5. State testing

Did we just not even talk about this in college? I knew it existed, but I didn't understand the push of it all. I think I asked a school in an interview a question about state testing and they looked at me like I had ten heads. I had no idea what it was or what it would even look like. I couldn't have even told you what grades get tested. Yikes! Find out information about your state as much as you can. Ohio is constantly changing the rules for graduation, so if you teach high school like me, you will want to pay attention to those areas too. Research and ask questions!

6. Planning large units

This task can still feel daunting to anyone. College emphasizes different types of assessments, standards, benchmarks, etc. but there was little guidance on how to actually break things down into small chunks. It would have been extremely helpful for me to see sample lessons of how a teacher mapped out a whole unit. Maybe this goes back to the poor student teaching experience I had, but I didn't have a clue how to do this until I started a long-term subbing position.

7. The lingo

There is so much education world lingo: TBT, SLO, OGT, AIR, IEP, RTI, and lots of three letters I'm noticing. ;) It's ok to not understand it all and get it confused. I struggled big time for a long time. Make a list if you have to. Expect it all to change too...because why would we keep anything the same?

8. Unions

Oiiiii. No one talked about this AT ALL in college. I briefly heard of some drama in a school I had a field experience in, which felt more like gossip than anything else. Ask someone you trust about unions, a wise, seasoned educator friend. Do what you need to do and make the choices you see best for yourself!

9. Admin observations

I did ask the principal at my student teaching to observe me and give me a lot of feedback. He was extremely kind and helpful. Don't be afraid to practice observations. I hate any type of criticism. It feels like I am being personally attacked, which is not true. Take it all with a grain of salt and know that you did your best. It has taken me time to accept that no lesson will ever be perfect for the observation rubric; it's an impossible standard. The state of Ohio might have a different requirement for observations than you, but I do think overall they have some similarities.

It's ok to feel a little defeated when you are observed, especially when you're starting out. If all else fails, rip that sucker up. ;) I wish I was kidding. I have heard horror stories from my fellow teacher friends who have had ridiculous observations. As I said, it's never going to be perfect so don't hold yourself to that. You're crushing it! Ask your professors or other educators friends how they handle observations and what advice they could give you too. Oh and one other thing, don't try to do something brand new that day. Don't incorporate a new piece of technology or routine your students aren't used to. If it can fail, it will. Trust me! ;) Just stick to what you know and crush!

10. Community

I hinted at this earlier, but find a community in your school and cling to it. I am grateful for an incredible group of people to work with. Our school is so small that we all feel like a little family, dysfunctional at times, but a family nonetheless. You can sense the feeling of a school from your interview. If they don't seem like people you like then, they might not be who you want to work with. If you get a strange, unsettling feeling, don't do it. I'm not saying first impressions can be wrong but also trust your instincts. Seek community in your school and you can find it, even if it's small! You'll need your community to get you through the days ahead.

11. All the Google things

I hope to goodness that by now they are teaching about Google Suite in college. I would highly recommend taking the Google courses if you haven't done those in college already. I have a podcast linked here where I talk about how I became a Google Certified Trainer. With technology use increasing in schools, you'll want to be tech-savvy with the Google world. When I was in college, it was just starting to come into existence. The iPhone rolled around when I was in college...wild to think about.

12. Using grading programs

Again I'm referencing my poor student teaching experience, but I had no idea how to use the grading programs. I remember she told me a day or two before grades were due that I should have been inputting their grades. But she never let me use her computer, so I had to tell them to her. And also they had just started using standard's based grading, which I had zero experience with and neither did she. It was awful. Ask people how to use these programs, if you don't know. There are also a lot of helpful videos floating around now that you can use to learn the tricks.

13. How contracts work

I had no idea what a contract even was until I signed my first one for a part-time position. I don't even remember signing it, to be honest. Again, ask people who are experienced in this area. Certain states look differently I am sure, so make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. For example, in Ohio, they can "take" your teaching license if you break your contract with a district. Some contracts are not always like this though, so ask questions!

14. Taking on extra roles

I know there can be a big push to "make yourself marketable," when you first graduate. But I think that is poor advice. Sure, you want to make yourself stand out among other applicants, but you shouldn't be putting more on your plate your first year teaching than you can handle. I think slowly adding more to your plate, once you have established at least a year under your belt is a good approach. If you signup to do all the things, you're going to burn out really quickly. I also don't think it is fair of schools to ask you to take on that many responsibilities as a first-year teacher. They should be investing in you to grow, rather than expecting you to help them out by filling a role. You know your limitations, so just be careful.


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