As an incoming freshman, I knew that I wanted to study Special Education. I knew that Special Education is a program you have to apply for, and I planned my class schedules carefully so I could enter into my major as quickly as possible. Now that I’m graduating in a month, there are a few things I know now that I wish I would have known before I was accepted into and started my program. Even though I can’t share these lessons with my younger self, hopefully they can be helpful to someone reading this blog post.
1) Plan breaks into your schedule.
I’ve been in classes since Fall 2011 without taking a single semester or term off. Most of those semesters, I was also working (usually 2 jobs) and taking an average of 15 credit hours. Though I loved my classes, I’m now dealing with major burnout and exhaustion. Just taking one term off would have helped A LOT.
My last first day of school.
2) Don’t over-stress about the Praxis.
I still would tell myself to study hard for the Praxis, but when I took it at the beginning of this year, I was so stressed out that I literally grew some gray hairs. I did not need all that extra stress in my life. I wish I would have known to be more confident and realized that as long as I studied, it was going to turn out well.
3) Education is collaborative, so have a good attitude about it.
Previous to entering the program, I didn’t study with others unless they were quizzing me. Group projects were torture because of many unfortunate grade-school projects where the other members of my group didn’t care and didn’t do anything. So, when I entered the program and we were immediately assigned a bunch of group projects, you can imagine my reaction.
Eventually, I was happily proven wrong about group work (even though coordinating schedules is still a challenge), but it took awhile to break down my negative attitude. That made my first semester in my program a lot more negative than it needed to be. I wish I had known that group work can be really positive and even better than working by myself.
4) It’s okay to not know everything.
From elementary school through the first part of college, I knew that if I came to class, did my homework, and studied, I would know all the answers I would need to in order to be successful. It was a pretty straightforward process for me (minus Calculus. That took some extra help—thank you mom!).
However, when I started teaching actual students, I quickly realized knowing all of the book answers didn’t always cover every situation in my classroom. I wish I would have known that it was okay to not know exactly how to deal with every problem. Not knowing gave me the chance to build on the foundation my book learning gave me, get creative, and problem solve. This has been much more challenging, sometimes frustrating, and intensely satisfying than straight book learning ever was.
5. “It is better to look up.”
Several years ago, Elder Carl B. Cook shared a story in General Conference.
“At the end of a particularly tiring day toward the end of my first week as a General Authority, my briefcase was overloaded and my mind was preoccupied with the question “How can I possibly do this?” I left the office of the Seventy and entered the elevator of the Church Administration Building. As the elevator descended, my head was down and I stared blankly at the floor.
The door opened and someone entered, but I didn’t look up. As the door closed, I heard someone ask, “What are you looking at down there?” I recognized that voice—it was President Thomas S. Monson.
I quickly looked up and responded, “Oh, nothing.” (I’m sure that clever response inspired confidence in my abilities!)
But he had seen my subdued countenance and my heavy briefcase. He smiled and lovingly suggested, while pointing heavenward, “It is better to look up!” “
I found President Monson’s advice to be particularly poignant throughout the program. There were so many days that I felt a lot like Elder Cook. I was weighed down by projects, reading assignments, students’ behavior problems, the endless slew of lesson plans, attempting to spend time with my husband, earning enough money, and more.
We all have struggles that can feel like a million pounds of bricks teetering on our shoulders alone. So, I wish I had written this advice down in a place I could see every morning. When I remembered to look up, be optimistic, pray and ask for help, get help from family and friends, my life was so much easier and so much happier. Even though I wish I had known these things then, I’m glad that I know them now and hope to be able to apply them to my life after graduation next month.