The One Mistake to Avoid this School Year

Your best teacher is your last mistake

With the first day of school just around the corner, the end-of-summer-overwhelm is here. In front of you lies a plethora of planning and preparing, sharpening and stacking, cleaning and copying. All tasks that need to, and will (yes will), get done before students arrive.

Yet, in addition to the tasks, there is something just as important to be thinking about. It’s something that the best teachers do. You know it when you see it, but it can be hard to plan for. Before I tell you what it is, let me tell you about my mistake. I sure don’t want you to repeat it!

The Mistake

A couple of years in to teaching, I thought I was doing OK. Lesson plans, grading system, behavior management – check, check, and check. That’s when a school counselor pulled me aside. I hadn’t gone to her; awkwardly, she had the need to come to me.

One of my students wanted to get out of my class. It wasn’t the subject-area, or the difficulty, or the other kids in the class; it was meShe acts like a robot, he said, she never shows any feelings.

I was immediately defensive and bewildered. Here I was, trying so hard to get it all “done” and get it all “right”, and now I had to share myself too! When I calmed down though, I started thinking about the successful teachers at my school. You know, the ones that everyone, from students to families to administration, loves.

The Solution

What were they doing that I wasn’t? How were we so different? What I discovered was that my student was right! These highly effective teachers didn’t stop at lesson plans and behavior management. They also shared their themselves and their humanness. In return, the students responded in ways that I wasn’t experiencing.

Three Examples

Share a Skill

One of my most admired middle school colleagues shares herself through her knowledge of origami. During down time in math class, she talks about the connection between math and the art of paper folding. From there, she teaches her students how to make paper cranes, which are then delivered around campus on special occasions. One fortunate day, I was visited with the gift of a colorful, hand-crafted bird. Along with the delivery came pride-filled, and motivated, students. It was evident that, because their teacher had shared her humanness, these children had come to see themselves as mathematicians, artists, and givers.

Share a Story

An elementary teacher (who I secretly wish I could be!) shares herself in a different way. She told me the story of a student who was recently challenged by state testing. Sitting at the computer, hands still, tears welled up in his eyes. Instead of just telling him to keep going she told him a story, about herself. Recounting her own childhood test-anxiety, this teacher shared how stomach-achy and nerve-racking testing days had been for her; but that she had survived. Then, out to recess he went. You know what happened? The student came back in, sat right down, and typed his essay. This teacher’s willingness to share her humanness inspired perseverance in her young student, in a way that just telling him to try harder never could have.

Share a Passion

There’s a special education teacher that I look up to. Students who go through his classroom face numerous challenges, at school and at home. Now this teacher is an avid cyclist. He gets places faster by bike than I do by car. It’s one of his loves. A few years ago, he had some students that needed movement, and a lot of it. Instead of telling them to settle down, or making them sit at their desks doing tiny exercises, this teacher brought a stationary bike to the classroom. When his students needed a break they could cycle for a few minutes, and then rejoin the group. Through his passion he shared his humanness, and met the needs of his students on their terms.

Your Turn

As you spend these last few days getting ready, please remember not to get so caught up (like I did) in the doing that you forget about who you are as a being. As your primping your room, and priming your lessons, make sure to ponder how you will share your humanness on the first day, and throughout the year.

You never know who you might help by sharing a little bit of yourself! Have an idea about expressing your humanness in the classroom? Write it in the comments.





My Guest Post Shared 4,500 Times! – 15 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years as a Special Education Teacher

When I was in middle school I decided to be a special education teacher, and I never let go of that dream. Fifteen years ago I took the first step into my own classroom.

Since then I’ve learned an infinite number of lessons. You don’t have infinite time though, so I boiled them down to the fifteen most important things you should know as a special education teacher. These tips will help you survive and thrive! Click here to read them on Think Inclusive where I guest posted. It must be a worthwhile read because it’s been shared over 4,500 times!

@misssgtpickels made this beautiful infographic based on what I wrote. I was completely honored to see the time and effort she put in. I wish I had thought of it!

Not familiar with Think Inclusive? Their motto is “Tomorrow is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion”. Their site is packed with easy-to-read, thought provoking information and inclusive resources.

Have more tips for special education teachers? Leave a comment here or at the bottom of my Think Inclusive post.

Have a question about being a special educator? Drop me a note by filling out the Contact Me form below. I promise to get back to you ASAP.


9 Ways Over 9 Months to Create Time for Yourself as a New Teacher – Guest Post

If you’re a new teacher you’re about to enter a wonderful, but arduous, career. Survival means you’ll need concrete strategies to create time for self care.

Read this guest post that I recently authored for TeacherPop, the Teach for America blog.

It lists 9 concrete, easy-to-implement strategies to help you survive the school year.

When you’re on TeacherPop, make sure to check out their other resources like Teacher Tips, Your Stories and more.

This post was also re-posted with my permission on Beyond, the blog for Rocketship Education.

Give Yourself Permission – It’s All About YOU

Give yourself permission


I know you’re passionate about what you do. And I’m going to bet that sometimes you overdo it. If so, you’re in good company here!

Be Cognizant of the Propensity to Overdo It

When I’ve overdone it, my body tells me. I physically hit a wall, and I have to stop (You know the migraines I’m talking about, right?)

Because it’s July, I’m already thinking about the school year ahead. I bet you have those whispers too. Wondering what day you’ll start getting your room ready. Who will your kids be? How will you hook them on day one? But it’s also important to be thinking about yourself. What will you do to avoid hitting the wall, even in the busiest times, this year? If you don’t, you’ll be no good to anyone.

Give Yourself Permission

This topic has been on my mind a lot this summer. As I stretch myself to do new things, I’m cognizant of the propensity to overdo it. So I tried to think of advice I’d give to new teachers. Those who have yet to go through the full cycle of the year. The most important step I realized, is to give yourself permission. Permission to step away, re-group, and rejuvenate so you can come back fresh and full of joy for those you serve.

Listen Deeply

I hope you’ll take a moment to ponder this. To listen deeply to what it is you’d like to give yourself permission for. What will be your buoy in the coming year? Please share it in the comments. Who knows how many people you’ll touch by sharing your wisdom!

For concrete tips on how to create time for yourself see my guest post on TeacherPop, Teach for America’s blog, 9 Ways Over 9 Months to Create Time for Yourself as a New Teacher“.