First-year teacher. noun. A title given to teachers who are brand spanking new and who are acutely feeling their lack of experience. They run on caffeine and enthusiasm. See also: Anna. Or, ahem, Ms. Christenson.
As some of you may know, I recently started the adventure of my first teaching job. I’ve survived my first week (!!!) of being in the middle school ELA classroom, and it’s been…something. A mostly good, occasionally overwhelming something. My situation is a bit unique, as I’m stepping into a classroom in the middle of the school year. Regardless, I’m sharing my experiences in the hopes other new teachers can find solidarity and encouragement.
No one warns you about the terrifying time between getting hired for a new job and actually starting said job. In the days between getting the yay-new-job phone call and my first day, I desperately wanted to just start. There was only so much I could plan and prepare and anticipate before I got to know the kids and saw them in action. Now that I’ve had 5 days with them, here’s what I’ve learned and what I’m working on.
Kids want someone who is in control.
One of my favorite ways to get to know students better is an activity I call Question Stations. I post questions around the room like “What’s something you could teach me?” and “What causes you the most stress?”, and students have a few minutes to circulate and write their answers. One of the questions I ask is “What makes a good teacher?” Normally I get responses like “Someone who gives food” and “Fun” or “Doesn’t give homework.” In one of my classes, I got a response that surprised me. At least 6 kids said “Control over the classroom.” After being in their class for a week, I get it. This is a class with a few highly disruptive kids. The other 90% of the students are respectful and want to learn. They get just as irritated as I do when their class is continually disrupted, when the teacher has to spend more energy on crowd control than on instruction. What my students need right now is a classroom that is well managed with clear boundaries, expectations, and consequences, NOT a chill teacher who is well liked. Continuing to build my skills here is my top priority for the second week.
Relationships are what makes the classroom go ‘round.
I’m discovering that don’t have fun teaching until I start to know my students. I love my content area, but knowing the kids and their personalities makes everything tick. Establishing relationships also makes all of the classroom management things I’ve been working on seem firm, but not inhuman. To that end, I regret none of the time that I’ve spent on getting to know you activities (even though we could have used more review time for district assessments). I am also sooooo thankful for my ability to learn names with relative speed. This impresses/scares kids (She knows my name!? Am I in trouble?) and helps students feel like I actually care about them individually.
One of the weirdest parts of the transition from student teaching to real teaching is that I have zero feedback on how I’m doing. While student teaching, I had a supervisor popping in once a week and a cooperating teacher who was still an integral part of the classroom. Now I’m all by myself. (Cue dramatic music.) I still have a wonderful team who helps keep me on track with big-picture plans and lesson ideas. But there’s no one watching to tell me that I’m doing exactly what I need to do or to chime in with ideas for helping the more challenging students. Independence is forcing me to grow and trust my own judgment. But it’s also sort of terrifying to know that I’m on my own. I’m trying to fake it in front of my kids. (Though I’m pretty sure my Advanced 8th graders have figured it out…)
Your brain will begin to lose pieces of very important information.
This week, I have lived off to-do lists and emails to myself late at night and reminders on my phone. If it’s not written down somewhere it swirls around and makes it hard for me to fall asleep and then evaporates by the time I wake up. I cannot remember anything anymore. Is this normal?
Wear a Wonder Woman shirt on Friday.
I mean this literally. I wore a shirt with Wonder Woman’s face on it for casual Friday. But you could wear your own equivalent (Super Girl? Power suit? You do you). I looked back at the week and saw that, hey, I survived. That’s neat. But I also saw 758 things that I would have done differently, or better, or not at all. I saw all the things I still wanted to fix and that weren’t done yet and that whispered that maybe I was sort of a crappy teacher. It took some kind words from my boyfriend to remind me that it’s only week 1. There’s still time, and no one expects my classroom to be a well-oiled machine yet. (With 7th graders, it probably never will be.) So I’m trying to celebrate any and all progress made. I’ve made it through 5 days. I am officially a teacher. Or superhero. Same thing.
Stay tuned for more teacherly updates! We’ve got one week down, a whole lot more to go. Here’s to Mondays and tea and forward progress and SSR time.