Three Things They Didn't Tell You In Teacher School (Guest Blogger - Alyssa)
Alyssa had just finished her first year in the classroom when I met her at a workshop I was leading last summer. You all know those kids who catch your attention immediately for some wonderful reason or the other - it's the same working with teachers a week at a time. You love them all, but some stick with you - and you often know it within the first few hours.
I'll spare her my extended lauding of her content knowledge, her intimidating grasp of pedagogy in its dozens of variations, and her - my god - her ENERGY level. I'm not that young, but even when I was, I never came close to this kind of verve. I asked if she'd share some thoughts for newbies, and she was kind enough to comply. Turns out in addition to everything else, she's pretty wise for such a young'un.
How close are those science types towards effective cloning? We need to get on that...
I’m a 2nd year 7th grade Texas History teacher. When I started – I was thrown into the mix mid year, in an urban, Title 1, public school. I was a first time teacher and was completely overwhelmed. I was learning all new curriculum, getting the hang of balancing the piles of paperwork and deadlines, learning classroom management, and trying to grow professionally all at one time. It was a mess.
But I’m not alone in this uphill battle. Every year thousands of new teachers enter the workforce, learning first hand what actually does and doesn’t work in their classroom.
So for you other brave newbies on the block, I have compiled the 3 things that you most need during your first year (or two) of teaching.
1. Learn about your students. I don’t mean this in a super cheesy start your first day with a survey about their favorite colors and food way – I mean this in a more serious dig into their culture kind of way. Most of us don’t start out at schools that are exactly like the kind of school we grew up in. Even if it is, times have changed – a lot, and it’s been a long time since you were their age.
Learn what happens in their neighborhood, what their cultural norms are. Students who live below the poverty line have a whole world of outside pressures and experiences that affect them in the classroom. Students who have to worry about where their next meal comes from, who are already 1 million words ‘behind’, and who aren’t sure where they’ll be living in another week will be different in the classroom than a kid who comes from a more privileged household.
Understanding their challenges outside of the classroom will help you better overcome their challenges inside of the classroom. If you don’t educate yourself on this, you’ll be going up against their walls all year instead of breaking them down.
Build the relationships. Spend two minutes a day with your most challenging student in the hall getting to know them. Your students want to know who you are just as much as you want to know them. Ask them what music they listen to, share your favorite TV shows and playlists. Tell them about your family. Personal anecdotes are not lost on them when they feel they can relate. My students are fully aware that I love yoga, Bruno Mars and dancing to Taylor Swift. My students don’t like any of those things but are totally entertained by the fact that I will dance around the room and lip sync to Taylor Swift, or challenge a kid to try a ‘yoga push up’.
Luckily we actually have a few other things in common, and they love that they can relate to something that I dig.
2. Try everything that feels right. You are going to be given a ton of tips on how to classroom manage, check for understanding, implement writing strategies into your content, build academic vocabulary, manage your workload, re-build your discipline plan, communicate with parents – this list could go on forever. They will be unending and overwhelming. How in the heck are you supposed to do all of this and teach the students what the state requires you to teach them?
Not every teacher is the same. Not everyone’s classroom style is the same. Walk in and out of each of these professional developments, workshops, emails with one goal – what is one (maybe two) thing that I can actually see myself implementing into my classroom? Try it out – try it out more than just once. It may work, if it doesn’t – no big deal – you’ll have an email with another 25 ways to engage your students in your inbox by the end of the day.
3. Find rest. The first year is exhausting. So is the second. We wear ourselves out, coming in early, staying up late, taking on too many things outside of our classrooms. The reality is that most of us are overwhelmed with the basic weekly things we have to accomplish. We’re learning all new curriculum, creating lesson plans from scratch, writing tests, trying to juggle parent conferences and 504’s and learning how to modify our assignments and tests to accommodate every child, and get at least 2 grades into the grade book. We wear ourselves thin quickly, and that is of no benefit to us, our families, or our students. Find rest.
If that means you say ‘no’ to something – say ‘no’. Do not spend all morning, all day, and all night at work. Try to fit in a class or a time with your family or friends that is just yours. Make it regular, something that you make yourself attend. I love yoga –I have a class that I can get to every afternoon at 5:30. My goal is to attend 4 times a week. It is my one and only hour to myself. I can’t have my phone in class, no one can call me, I can’t check my emails, I can’t write a lesson plan. All of that can wait. I need that one hour desperately to help me be a centered and sane person. It helps me be more mentally ready for the next day and helps me rinse away the day that has passed.
Whatever that thing is – figure it out – and commit to it. Give yourself the space to be the person that makes you great inside of the classroom so that you can be that person.
That’s it. You now have the secret keys to success in a first year classroom. Just kidding. I’m not that amazing. But I do hope these things are helpful – because if someone had given me permission to throw out that 19th list of 100 ways to engage visual learners in the classroom - my evenings would have been a little easier. If you’re in the middle of it – and are feeling overwhelmed, remember – it is okay. We’ve all been there – and it DOES get better.
**If you are an OG – a master teacher across the hall from one of these brave fledglings – you have a charge also. Care for that teacher. Have lunch with them every now and then. Help them out with a lesson plan. Show them how to get the good stapler – and where the heck the magical supply closet is.Ask them how they’re doing, and encourage them along the way.
Think back to your first year and share some of your own horror stories. If they have a terrifyingly difficult student, bribe that student to be good for a day with a Snickers when that sweet teacher is about to be observed. Offer to make their copies for them when you have an extra thirty minutes of your planning period with nothing to do – or you know, get a student to do it.
But remind them to keep fighting the good fight, and remind them that it does get easier, and better, and more and more rewarding all the time. Because it does – or we wouldn’t be doing it so passionately, now would we?