Corey Thornblad’s Advice to First-Time Teachers

By Kelly Rankin
Spotlight
September 15, 2016

On August 22, Corey Thornblad addressed more than 1,200 educators, senior administrators, and dignitaries at the Great Beginnings Summer Institute held at South County High School. Great Beginnings is a support and mentoring program that celebrates and welcomes new instructional staff to FCPS.

The following is a summary of Thornblad’s remarks:

To all of you who are new to the profession - teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and librarians - I so wish that I could sit down with each of you and talk to you about this profession. Answer your questions, listen to your thoughts, brainstorm ideas with you for the new school year, and share with you some of the things that I have learned over the years or as I like to call them: my truths.

These truths were not handed to me on a piece of paper - they are things that I have discovered over time - through hours of teaching and learning, struggle and success in my 7th and 8th-grade social studies classroom at Kilmer Middle School.

Teaching is deeply personal. We have to find our own teaching truth, what drives us, makes us the best teacher or counselor or librarian that we can be. But, I am hoping that maybe just one of my truths will resonate with you and, when you are jotting down your to-do list in the days to come, you can pencil in a truth or two to guide you on your journey.

So here in no particular order are some of my truths.

  • FIND YOUR PEOPLE and build a personal learning network. Behind the scenes of every amazing classroom there are A LOT of people. You are going to learn, if you haven’t already, that teachers are some of the most generous people on the planet. They will give you their support, their knowledge, their lessons -- all you have to do is ask. Also, don’t be limited to the people in your building. I cannot say enough about finding people outside of your school who inspire you and keep you fresh.
  • THINGS WILL FALL APART AND WHEN THEY DO LEARNING WILL STILL HAPPEN. Here’s what I mean: You can plan and plan and plan, and even then things will not go always go as planned. Even as a veteran teacher this happens to me. Remember, when things fall apart and you put them back together, you are showing your students what real learning is all about. When things fall apart, you get to teach your students about more than your content; you get to teach them about life.
  • DO NOT LET THE PERFECT BE THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD. I am a perfectionist (so many teachers are) and over time I have had to let that go. When I first started teaching I felt like I wasn’t doing my job if I wasn’t doing everything on my own. I created every worksheet, every lesson. I was scared to borrow things - thinking that I was taking a shortcut -- so instead I stayed up late at night creating and rewriting. Don’t do what I did -- use what’s out there. Do not let your version of the perfect teacher prevent you from focusing on what really matters.
  • TEACHING IS A MARATHON NOT A SPRINT. You absolutely must pace yourself in your profession because we want you (no, we NEED you) to be here in five years. Believe it or not, I did not become an outstanding teacher by being in the last car to pull out of the parking lot every day. I achieved it by setting personal limits, by knowing that I needed to achieve work-life balance in order to be effective inside and outside of the classroom.
  • MY GOLDEN RULE - teach and care for your students the way you would want your very own kids to be taught -- with kindness, compassion, purpose, vision, and creativity. Regardless of the grade or subject you are teaching, you must value every kid like you value the people in your life. And the honest truth is that you will meet some kids who for whatever reason don’t have who someone that values them at home -- that makes your job even more important.

There are so many jobs you could have chosen. Some people design buildings, others create new medicines, protect our citizens, sell products, and some write books or articles. We have our students. When we finish our careers, we don’t have things to point to as accomplishments. Instead, we have people. Teachers are changing the world one day at a time and our students are that change. Just think about that for a second. There is no work more meaningful.

Corey Thornblad is a civics teacher at Kilmer Middle School and FCPS’ Outstanding Teacher for 2016. To learn more about Thornblad, read this interview.

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