Lessons learnt from week 1 as a teacher

New Teachers' Attitudes to Teaching

This week it has been me, rather than my students, doing most of the learning.

After surviving the Staff Development Day without going into administrative overdrive, I was feeling like I had it sorted. Had most people’s names pegged, had my desk and programs all organised. I even had my lunches planned.

Aaaaaaaand thud. I landed flat on my face. As someone who had taken a variety of classes at a public school on an almost year long placement, it came as a shock to me that I might be unprepared for this job. For all intents and purposes, I had assumed that the curriculum and ensuring content was engaging and innovative was going to be the biggest challenge of my new job. What a surprise it was then to discover that my biggest challenge was going to be to get these kids to stay in their chairs and not punch each other.

I had heard the tales from many an experienced teacher about the first year being the hardest, but it wasn’t until this week that I could seriously understand the gravity of that statement. The first three days had me feeling completely incompetent and fearing that I had made a terrible mistake. I was convinced that I was going to let these kids down, and that I was going to become someone bitter and resentful, rather than the ‘teacher self’ that I had imagined and felt comfortable as before.

Day three had me at the lowest point. My Head Teacher and my staffroom were supportive, and worded me up with all the right kind of advice, gave me resources and programs to use, and offered to take the trouble makers off my hands. And my Head Teacher said something poignant at the end of this week: there are some things as a new teacher, you have to learn yourself, as a teacher, your idealistic (some would say naive, but she phrased it nicely!) bubble is inevitably burst. And she was right, and I was devastated when my bubble had burst.

When I hit rock bottom, I took a deep breath and decided that I had to take a different approach. Instead of dwelling on all my shortcomings, I had to focus on the positives. I had, after all, had success with 3 year 7 classes, my year 8s and to a limited extent with year 11. They had done some work. No one had killed or injured each other. I hadn’t cried in front of the students.

And then Day 4 came to my rescue.

Thursday was swimming carnival day, but this is held after a normal school day as a twilight carnival. I thought I might need cement in my coffee that morning, as the kids and I had 12 hours together ahead of us, as well as an excuse to muck around. And so, I braced myself for the worst, all the while with the advice of valued twitter companions in the back of my mind: start every lesson with a positive, even if it deteriorates, at least START positive.

My first lesson was year 10, the class which had me questionning my motivation to teach just a day before. They were delightful. We had an entertaining discussion about the emotions which their favourite music artists wrote about, and why they chose particular genres of music to write about these emotions, and then investigated some of the poetic devices in a song we listened to. Pretty impressive for the low ability year 10 class with a reputation.

Following this was a double of my year 8 class, who are really quite sweet and manageable for the most part, except for the boys gang which tend to distract the entire class with their antics. We read part of a novel, discussed the 5 elements of reading and writing, and they laughed at my pathetic taste in music when I played them the Flocabulary ‘5 things’ rap.

The cutest year 7 group were the last class of the day, which was always going to be a positive way to end the day.

I have been told to mark this day in my calender as a “star day”, as for a while it is going to keep me going when days get rough again. I know that next week the kids are going to go back to testing me whilst they try to work me out. But at least I have had a window, a ray of hope, an assurance that I have chosen the right profession. That I eventually will get the hang of this and find my feet. And not wake up nauseous.

My PLN have really come into their own this week; many of them have offered to send programs, checked up on me daily, or fed me constant electronic advice. For their unwavering support during what has been a very challenging week (some may say I’m being overly dramatic, but I would say to them that they either, a) haven’t been a teacher, or b) have blocked their first teaching week from their memory) I would like to thank Robyn Richards, Brenda Norman, Krista Suckling, Beth Kermode, Belinda McKellar, Paula Madigan, Alissa Williams, Bianca Hewes and for therapy-via-phone, Sam Walkerden and Larissa Caillat. Once again, this really strengthens the case for the PSTN project.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Week 2: Split Personalities « lforner pingbacked on 6 years, 4 months ago


  1. * biancah80 says:

    Oh lovely Lauren! It was always going to happen – but none of us in your PLN could tell you to brace yourself for the worst, could we? You made it through the first week!
    My first year of teaching had some horrible, horrible moments. So did my second. But in my third one of the boys who tormented me was hit by a car and killed. It woke me up and made me realise that these are young people, not students. We have to see them like that and love them for their dramas and silliness. They will warm to you as you persist and continue to treat them as human beings.
    Keep smiling.
    Keep talking and reflecting – many of us didn’t have that when we were first year teachers.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 4 months ago
  2. * davidtjones says:

    G’day Lauren, Congrats on finishing your first week and having a star day. Hope there are many more to come. Not sure if you see this post. It seems to be in a similar genre.

    Wondering if there is a lesson here for pre-service teachers to learn? Is it learning resilience?

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 4 months ago
  3. * ihsprojectreal says:

    Wow, your honestly and reflections are amazing…..I have only taught in what are generally considered challenging schools and have seen many NST embark on a similar journey. Everyone will give you advice…just remember that you are being tested…for loyalty in particular…select the advice and strategies which suit your personality…and the most common trap of NSTs I have mentored is to try to be a ‘friend’ – students love getting some mileage from that one. The fact that you are so reflective is fantastic! Chin up and fight the good fight because there WILL come a day when you wake up and forget that there was ever a fight to begin with! Thanks for your honesty……..

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 4 months ago
  4. Hi Lauren,

    I must admit, reading some of your wonderfully frank and honest reflections I felt like you stole my thoughts! I knew in my mind the difficulties I faced, but being hit with them head-on was humbling. All I can say is that you’ve made it this far so you can keep on going! You are a fantastic teacher and your enthusiasm for our profession, though it must have wavered a lot over the last week, will win out in the end. All the best!


    | Reply Posted 6 years, 4 months ago
  5. Hi Lauren, there’s no point in being a great teacher if you’re not resilient – and you story tells of your ultimate resilience – so good luck..!

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 4 months ago
  6. I bet you feel better getting this off your chest and mind…and in time for the weekend too.

    I smiled inside and out when I saw the star. Today is a star day, too, because you’ve written this post. A day of good learning – painful though it may have been – is a good day; a star day.

    It’s tough feeling incompetent especially when one has been so successful in another field – my theory as to why many leave in the first 5 years of teaching. Somebody must have really thought about the first level of accreditation – Competence. We’ve got to find the ‘funny’ in these things. 🙂

    It feels apt to point you to my latest post – What makes people tick? It might go some way in helping you decode your students.

    By the way, I consciously moved away from calling students ‘low ability’ into strugglers; so seeing it in your post really struck me – it’s not just semantics for me. I found that my biggest challenge in teaching maths especially with strugglers was first to engage the students enough so they were open to learn. I’ve been known to say “stay with me” and “are you with me?”. I tell you, maths can be such a bummer some time….so I learned to bring in their likes, as you have done….music and YouTube and lollies not so much as rewards but integrated into the lesson. Seriously. I doubt they will ever look at jellybeans and not think of decimals again.

    As I say on twitter….. #loveLauren.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 4 months ago
  7. * Danne Levy says:

    I remember that!! I promise it gets better.

    I focused on the good stuff. I relied heavily on mentors. I pillaged resources a d programs and lesson plans and unit ideas.

    If I had my first year again, I would stay on top of my registers. I would exercise more. I would try to get involved in my new town and not drive up and down to Sydney quite do frequently.

    We’re all on team Lauren!!!

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 4 months ago
  8. * ellyconnolly says:

    Lauren! Your post brought back so many memories from my first year – the tears in the staffroom (then pretending that I just had something caught in my eye because I didn’t want people to think I couldn’t cope!), the year 10 class with the reputation (I thought it was a win if they wrote a sentence in the entire lesson during first term!) and the cute year 7s who totally made my day. But, as the year went on, the star days came more often, year 10 managed to hold really interesting and thoughtful class discussions and debates (even if they did insist on referring to Lennie in ‘Of Mice and Men’ as “The Retard”), my year 7s made me cute homemade birthday cards on my birthday and I felt like I had worked so hard with my crazy year 9s over the year that I asked for them again in year 10 to continue the momentum. That little graph is so true.

    Anyway, my point is, it gets easier. Once they realise that you are there to stick around and that you care, they will start to trust you. They will let you implement the great lessons that you have so carefully prepared. They will trust that the weird music or YouTube clips you are playing them or the strange activity that you make them do that no other teacher does is designed to help them understand a concept or figure something out. You’ll work out ways that your classes like to work, and then they will also let you challenge them by doing some different things. Your Year 10s will come up and say hi and have a chat when you are on playground duty. They will all laugh with you when you dress up in a school uniform and lip-sync to Britney Spears at the talent quest on camp (what? Doesn’t everybody do that?). What they don’t tell you at uni is that no matter how amazing your programs are or how keen you are, it means nothing unless you can build a rapport with the students. And that comes with time.

    I have no doubt that you are a great teacher – I can see how much you care about every one of your students and how much work you put in. They will see that too. And then the star days will outnumber the dark days 🙂

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 4 months ago
  9. * Mark O'Meara says:

    Sorry to hear that your week started like that. I am five years out from my first day, but I remember just how daunting those first days were. At the time, I felt like I found my feet pretty fast, and it’s good to see you finding yours. You’ll be amazed by how much you improve each and every year, so don’t be too hard on yourself (now, or in the future when you look back)

    I have worked with Year 10s for all five years, and it always takes a month or more to build real rapport. Sometimes, it can take half the year. But I find the resulting bond and growth makes it all worth it.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 4 months ago
    • Thanks Mark-I’m not going to be too optimistic yet, next week could be shocking again, but at least with some of the classes I feel like I’ve got it covered.

      Wow. Year 10 sound like a tough year group to crack…. I suppose they are on the cusp of adulthood but still in junior school which treats them a bit like children.

      | Reply Posted 6 years, 4 months ago
      • Go Lauren! Great read as always. As Bianca said many if us didn’t have an extended PLN when we started- the best support sometimes is empathy. “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
        ― C.S. Lewis

        Posted 6 years, 4 months ago

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: