My Fond Farewell

The day teachers and students have been waiting for is finally here – the last day of school. Normally I cannot get out of my classroom fast enough, eager as can be to begin a much-needed summer break. I will be back in 2 short months and will deal with whatever needs attention (read: mess) when I return.

This year, however, I am taking my time as I get ready for summer break. I will not return to this classroom in 2 short months. Today is my last day teaching at this school.

Today is a bittersweet day. While I am ready for the rest and relaxation that summer break will bring, I will greatly miss my students and the colleagues that became friends. In a lot of ways, I feel like I “grew up” here. This school has been my home since I graduated from college, and now that I am leaving I feel like I am a high school student leaving home for the first time again.

As I prepare for the next chapter in my teaching career, I am taking some time to reflect on the past seven years to share seven lessons I learned as a beginning educator. Each lesson comes from a specific year in my teaching career thus far and is something that I will carry with me on my teaching journey.


Lesson 1 – Things that worked for your mentor teacher may not work for your group of students.

My mentor teacher is an amazing teacher, and our teaching styles are similar. She has the easiest procedures and routines for herself to manage and her students to follow, so naturally, I decided to implement the exact same ones in my classroom. I began teaching 3rd grade fresh out of college, the same grade in which I student taught, so I figured that they would work for me and my students, too.

To make a long story short, it did not work for that group of students at all. It took me a long time to realize that it was not working for myself or my students and that it is okay for the same procedures and routines not to work! Each year my management evolves to meet the needs of my students, although I start with the same ideas, but go with the flow of what my students need to make it work that year.


Lesson 2 – Keep your classroom “healthy”.

My second year of teaching was a difficult one. I moved down to 2nd grade and had to learn new standards, curriculum, management, and looking back it took me a while to figure out what second graders truly need. I was constantly stressed, and this year I was ALWAYS sick. At the end of the year, I was so stressed that I developed severe stomach pain because my body did not know how to handle the amount of stress I was under. As soon as summer break started and I had a chance to relax, the pain magically resolved itself.

Early on into summer break after my second year teaching, I attended a Love and Logic training through my district. The timing was perfect because I was feeling so disheartened about teaching, and questioned if I could stay in this profession. I learned so many new techniques for managing student behavior that I wish I had known a year ago. I really could have used them this year! It made me think about the emotional “health” of my classroom. If I was so stressed all the time, my students likely were, too. I realized that the emotional health of my classroom this year was not great and that I need to continuously nourish the emotional health of my classroom for the sake of myself and my students.


Lesson 3 – You need to manage the parents just as much, if not more, than your students. 

During my third year of teaching, I had many parents that wanted to be involved in their child’s education. It was really great to have supportive parents, but at the time I was still a rookie teacher and did not know how to use them in the most advantageous way. I had parents in my room frequently, and while they helped some I received plenty of unwanted (and unneeded) advice on how to run my classroom.

When lesson planning for my students, I frequently remind myself to “have a plan for your students, or they will have a plan for you.” This rings true when inviting parents into your classroom, whether they are volunteering in your classroom, stopping by for a scheduled conference, talking to you while picking up their child at dismissal, or dropping in unexpectedly and expecting a conversation while you are in the middle of teaching. Instead of “going with the flow”, it is better to have a plan and an exit strategy for any of these common scenarios.


Lesson 4 – The most difficult class will make you a better teacher.

This year was rough. Even now, thinking back about this year is rough. I seriously questioned if I was cut out to be a teacher after this year, and really thought about leaving the profession I love so much. I did not want to be a statistic and be one of the teachers who quits in the first five years of teaching.

I continued on for another year of teaching, and I realized that I am now a better teacher. Management comes more naturally, relationship building comes easily, and lesson planning seems to fall into place. It took one tough year to realize that I am stronger than I thought I was, both personally and professionally.


Lesson 5 – National Board certification is a beautiful, arduous journey.

Hot on the heels of my most difficult class, I decided to take a professional development class to see what this “National Board” stuff is all about. I did not know anything about it, so I figured the pre-candidacy course would help me figure out if it is something that I would be interested in pursuing at some point.

Little did I know, but my good friend (and teammate) was also going to the training. After the pre-candidacy course, I planned to think about the things I learned and to start the process the following school year. My friend convinced me to start the process this year and gave me the confidence to go forward this year. I did not have a lot going on in my personal life at the time, so I thought “Why not this year?” I had no idea what I was in for, but by the time the school year and the two components I started were complete, I felt like I had grown tremendously as an educator.

Spoiler alert: I took two years to submit all the components, and can proudly say that I am now a National Board certified teacher!

Lesson 6 – Mentoring student teachers is worth the work.

My sixth year of teaching I decided to take on a student teacher. Mentoring a student teacher has been on my “teaching bucket list” for a while now, and I was a bit nervous starting out. Would I be able to give a new teacher the skills to run a classroom effectively? Would my own students’ achievement drop as a result of a brand new teacher taking over my classroom at some point? Would we get along?

In some ways, mentoring a student teacher saves you time. There’s someone to share the load with grading, filing papers, and other classroom tasks like this. However, it does give the mentor more work because there is now an additional student whose learning I am responsible for. I still have all of my responsibilities as a classroom teacher, and all the duties of mentoring a new teacher are added on. After mentoring two student teachers this year, I can honestly say it is 100% worth the extra time and effort to watch new teachers grow and succeed in the classroom. I hope they learned a lot from me, and I can say that I learned a lot from them and that they helped me grow as an educator.


Lesson 7 – Teachers can make or break a classroom.

This lesson is something that I have believed for a while but did not feel the impact of until this year. I began this school year 14 weeks pregnant and knew that I would be out for 3 months once my son was born. It worked out that I would return to work for two and a half weeks to close the year with my class. In a lot of ways, the timing of his birth worked out perfectly. I could get a taste of what it will be like to be a working mom for a couple of weeks, and then get a break for two months during the summer.

I hoped that if I established solid routines and procedures at the beginning of the year that it would make the transition to having a substitute teacher easier. I designed instructional routines that could practically run themselves, with an adult to facilitate then. Well, to put it lightly, the class I returned to was not the class I left, behaviorally or academically. You can have the right materials and curriculum, but if you do not have the right person teaching it will not have the same results.

So this is it – my fond farewell. I will always remember these lessons, students, families, colleagues, and friends I made here as I continue on with my teaching career. Farewell Cougars!


photo credit: mr.beaver untitled via photopin (license)


Caitlin Gawlowski

I was born to be a teacher, although I did not realize that teaching was my calling until I began college. I have always loved to write and began college with the mindset of becoming a journalist. Before I began my freshman year of college, I changed my major to Elementary Education on a whim and have never looked back. I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University and won the Outstanding Student Teacher Award during my student teaching experience in the Cave Creek Unified School District.
I spent 7 years in the Washington Elementary School District teaching 2nd and 3rd grade. I became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2018, and I hold a certificate in Early and Middle Childhood Literacy: Reading/Language Arts. The 2019-2020 school year marks the beginning of my 8th year teaching, where I will be teaching 3rd grade English Language Learners, and supporting other National Board candidates on their journey toward National Board certification.
If I am lucky enough to have free time, you can find me planning my wedding, spending time with my infant son and fiancé, taking group fitness classes, or enjoying a good book.

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