I recently became a member of a group named Teacher Hustle University (THU). Alissa McDonald, creator and leader of the THU group, has brought together a number of educators who want to fuel their dreams and passions of starting their own business. I am one of those group members who has decided to take the leap and start on my own business path. Let’s just say that the community aspect of the THU group is incredible and something that I will forever be grateful for.
As a THU member, I have access to an endless number of videos and downloads. These videos and downloads are organized into different lessons. Once you finish one lesson, you move on to the next. This is a very familiar format for me as a teacher, so I was excited to sit down and get started. When I sat down for the first time to work on the framework, I had the hopes of knocking out as many consecutive lessons as I could. Once you start a fire in me it’s hard to slow me down, so I was ready to get to work and learn as much as I could.
One of the very first lessons of the THU framework required me to think about my niche. To be completely honest, I didn’t even know “niche” was a word until I joined this business group, and I consider myself a word person (this is how I know I am a lifelong learner). I learned throughout this lesson that I could not try to be all things to all people through my business. I ultimately needed to have a focus that would bring in a specific audience. So first things first: determine my audience.
Determining my audience was easy peasy lemon squeezy… or so I thought. I’m a teacher with a goal of providing other teachers ideas and resources that will benefit them and the students in their own classrooms. Wow. You know you haven’t found your niche when your explanation of it is ten thousand words long. Here’s the deal: there are an endless number of teachers out there in this world and they all have teaching positions that look different than anyone else’s. Here are just a few examples: high school teachers each with their own subject, middle school teachers each with their own subject, elementary teachers with their own grade level or sometimes subject focus, homeschool teachers, early childhood education teachers, SPED teachers, specials teachers (PE, music, art, etc.), college professors, and so many more. This fact still didn’t bother me though. I was a primary level teacher who wanted to help other teachers who taught the same age range as me.
As I dug further into the THU framework, I realized that I once again was trying to be all the things all at one time. I could not try to provide all primary level teachers ideas and resources from every single realm of my classroom. I needed to hone in even more to really be successful. Ugh, this was not going to be easy.
As a first grade teacher in a small school, I do not consider myself to be more focused and dedicated to one subject than another. Yes, I am better at ELA than I am in math, but that does NOT mean I spend more time planning for ELA just because I like it better. I also don’t spend less time on it just because it comes naturally (back to the lifelong learner comment). In summary, I teach my first grade kiddos ELA, math, science, social studies, and social and life skills.
How the heck was I supposed to pick a single niche for my audience when I teach EVERYTHING in my classroom on a daily basis?! I started to doubt Alissa’s advice on finding a niche and staying true to it. I felt that I would not be able to produce enough content for just one classroom focus. I started to scroll through my Instagram feed full of classroom resources and experiences being shared across the globe. Then, I started to go through the list of incredible teachers I follow on the Gram. Alissa McDonald (@teacherbynaptime) is a pro at marketing. Gina (@teachingwithheart) focuses on providing her audience with engaging literacy centers. Andriana (@the_active_educator) posts about all things movement-based learning. Alexandra (techaboutmath) is an expert on incorporating technology into her daily math instruction. I thought to myself: what do all of these influential and successful Instagram users and Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) sellers have in common? They have a niche.
Yes, Alissa was right and I was wrong. Not surprising… As I stated before, she’s a marketing guru who knows what she’s saying and doing. So what now? It was time for me to stop wasting time and get to work on discovering my own niche.
At first, I thought finding my niche would take FOREVER. That it would be the most painful process and that I would never really have a true focus come to fruition. But guess what? It didn’t take long at all to realize what my niche should be. Since January, I have been sporadically adding products to my TPT store. I am someone who plans for my classroom on a weekly basis; therefore, I create products for my classroom the weekend before I implement them. It’s just the way my brain works. If you go check out my TPT store (First Grade Kindness), you will find that every single student resource– literally every single one– is a writing template. Yes, they all look somewhat different and serve a different purpose. Yes, some of them are holiday specific. But I can promise you that they all come back to the act of writing.
Once I realized that I was consistently adding writing templates to my TPT store on a weekly basis, it hit me: my niche was to share ideas and resources on how to teach the littles not only to become good writers, but also to feel confident in and LOVE writing itself.
If you are a teacher teaching littles how to write, you know that it can be overwhelming and scary. As a first year teacher, I was more than intimidated by the first grade writing standards looming above my head. I will never forget the journal writing I had my students engage in on the first day of school. I had written three short sentences on the board about our first day of school. My students were expected to record the sentences and fill in the blanks I left with their own responses. The students could then draw a picture in their journals of themselves on the first day of school. What a freaking disaster! A lot of my students struggled to transfer the words on the board to their paper, and that is a major problem when most of my fresh first graders couldn’t independently spell any of the words I had written. Let’s just say that I was running around the classroom with my head chopped off. Once I had helped one student and had them back on the right track, I’d turn around to find ten more hands raised. It’s a first day of school experience that will forever give me nightmares.
I continued to suck at teaching my first graders writing throughout the first quarter of the school year. Yes I said it: I sucked. I didn’t enjoy teaching writing, which led to my students disliking the process of writing itself. Then, something changed.
I started creating templates that broke down each writing process we engaged in. If we were writing a personal narrative, rather than handing my students a blank sheet of paper, I would provide them templates that would guide them step-by-step through the writing process. If we were focusing on how-to writing, I made sure that my students were able to have a hands-on experience so they could be more specific and detailed in their sequence of instructions. If we were writing an opinion piece, you bet they were given a template that allowed them to put their writing in chunks before turning it into a full blown paragraph.
Writing in my classroom went from a dreadful subject to a favorite. I started to incorporate the writing templates I was creating into other focus areas, such as reading, math, science, and social studies. My students were slowly but surely becoming more confident writers who felt accomplished when they finished a piece of writing.
Now you may be reading this and thinking to yourself, “I already do all of these things she just mentioned… So why does she think she has something special to share when there are already a million writing templates out in the TPT world?” This is a thought that has consumed my own mind, which has ultimately led to self-doubt. But as my THU members and I have learned over the past month, we ALL have something to share with the world. Yes, there are already millions of writing templates to choose from out there in the World Wide Web, but that is NOT going to stop me from creating and sharing my own. Honestly, if I can support and help one teacher– just one– with the experiences, ideas, and products I put out into the world, then I would consider myself to be successful.
So, I have officially found my niche. When I reflect on my discovery of writing being my niche, I realize all along that I never really had to search for it. I myself am a writing addict. I love to put words together that portray what I am thinking and feeling. I love reading words in fiction and nonfiction books on a daily basis. Writing is a form of communication that is a necessary skill in today’s world. My favorite thing when it comes to writing is how personal it is. Every single writer in this world has a different tone and style. I want to teach my students the necessary tools they need to be successful writers. I want my students to eventually become effective communicators through their writing. But more than anything, I want my students to find their own voice and portray it in their writing. I want my littles to realize they have thoughts and feelings to share with others through the words they write on a piece of paper.
Someone out there in this world needs to hear what we have to say. Like I said before, we ALL have something to share. I have no doubt in my mind that my first graders will someday be those individuals sharing what others need to hear through their writing. I feel so dang lucky to be a part of their journey as writers.
And oh yeah, if I didn’t let you know before, I found my niche.