Memoirs of a First Year Teacher

I have finally completed my first year as a teacher!
And what a year it has been. The good thing is, I feel like I have been teaching all my life now and I feel completely comfortable. I have learnt to be more flexible as I’ve become more confident in my own ability and I’ve become more resilient, no longer taking all the bad days personally, but still able to cherish those special moments.
The biggest challenge for me came in first term when I had to readjust my expectations of both my students and myself. I quickly got a handle on this however, and with the help of my #staraday was able to see the progress I was making each day.
After that steep learning curve, I focused on my classroom management. Something I would recommend to first year teachers is the observation of the old “don’t smile til Easter” tip. Once my first class ran riot on my on my first day I came down hard on my other classes the next day. In fact, listening to myself I could have been mistaken for something from Jane Eyre.
In Term 3 I could relax slightly, having earned a certain amount of respect from the kids through consistency and having completed my first reports. But man, being consistent is tough! Outlining the rules at the beginning of every lesson with year 7 and 8 is the easiest part of it. Ensuring you see and respond to everything is exhausting. Dylan, stop swinging on your chair, Corie, turn around and do your work, Zac, get your book out. I made a rule early on that for every correction I made to a child’s behaviour, I had to praise someone who was doing the right thing so as to provide a model for the other student of the appropriate behaviour. Eventually, my corrections just became names, pointing or a long stare, short cuts which ensured my delivery of content or instructions was not interrupted.
I also enforced 5 minutes “thinking time” with year 7 each lesson, which was 5 minutes students had to work in complete silence to establish their concentration. Sometimes this was purely for my sanity as toward the end of third term they became extremely boisterous. It also gave me a chance to check student’s homework or progress on activities.
I will also, next year, use a roll for my junior classes to check who did not complete their homework. This year I wrote lists and kept students back to complete unfinished work, but it would have been handy to have an ongoing record so I could follow up with parents.
Playing weekend sport in my small town gave me an opportunity to meet some of the kids’ parents and get to know my students outside of the classroom. Amazingly, this lead to a complete turn around in my year 9 class. They became angelic overnight as though I had passed initiation.
Having just one class which lights up your day can make all the difference, and by the end of the year I was lucky enough to have 3 classes I will miss next year. I was almost in tears when I had to farewell my Year 9s! Seeing the growth in these kids from the beginning of the year until the end was something so rewarding; I was really pleased that the majority of the reports I wrote at the end of the year were very positive ones, even for those students who had caused me anguish at the beginning of the year.
Being the occasional speaker at my old high school presentation night was a great way to cap off the year; it allowed me to express the gratitude I felt for the teachers and system which made such an impression on me and it also allowed me to reflect upon why I have found teaching to be such a comfortable fit. One of my ex-teachers cried because he was so proud of me becoming a teacher, which was just a phenomenal compliment as he has been my idol for years.
I will progress up the ladder next year as we have another first year teacher coming into the staffroom next year, and so I am going to pass on all of this useful advice to her. I will make it known that the only way she will get through the year is by slogging through it as it is HARD work, talking about her hesitations and experiences and accepting that she doesn’t know it all, can’t POSSIBLY know it all, and that she needs help.
She is lucky though, she enters a faculty which shares knowledge, resources and a laugh, and are generally good at spotting when you are struggling.
And so, I can breathe a sigh of relief, having shed the label of “first year teacher” now.

Preservice teachers: unprepared? Unrealistic expectations?…

For those who started following this blog, you may have shared the enthusiasm I first felt about writing it. Since then I have felt an immense amount of guilt about not updating it as regularly as I had hoped, and thus not using it as thre reflective journal as I had first hoped it would be.

In truth, I now spend every waking moment (and even some sleeping moments) in education world. I have decided that doing a uni load of 6 subjects plus a 2 day a week practical placement in one semester is not a wise move. Now being down to my final two university assessments, I now actually have time to reflect upon what I have been learning over the last five or so weeks, beginning with the realisation of just how unrealistic the expectations of pre service teachers about entering the profession actually are.

I gave up a legal career for a teaching career, with one of the considerations being that it was simply impossible for me to maintain the workload and work hours expected of a lawyer. 16 hour days just weren’t for me. The reaction I faced from many people when I told them about the career change I was making was one of shock. Many people were convinced that teaching was a much better “lifestyle”.

I would now like to dispel that myth. The exposure I have had to the teachers I’m working with over the last 5 weeks has taught me that teaching is all consuming. These people work damn hard for their students before school, during school, after school, late into the night and on weekends. So if you are looking for a work life balance, this probably isn’t the career for you.

Not that this is a problem for me, i really enjoy the satisfaction of putting together a lesson students enjoy or take something away from, and I’ve always been the person who pushes myself to go that extra mile. And I happen to be a geek, who thoroughly enjoys the pursuit of knowledge for it’s own sake.

What I do have an issue with, however, is the way in which teaching is “sold” as a career choice to younger people. Universities and teaching bodies promote it as a viable option for those who need work life balance, and who are after a workload which will allow them to put their family first. Unfortunately, this picture of teaching is so far removed from how involved and consumed in their teaching the good teachers are, that it could be either setting us pre service teachers up to fail (hence the high drop out rate within the first 3 years) or promoting a standard of teaching which isn’t consummate with the way in which students deserve to be taught. If we were a little more realistic in the workload which a good teacher will take on, the hours they will dedicate to lesson planning, assessment planning and marking, and unit programming, perhaps we would ensure the teaching profession attracts only those who are willing to take on this workload.

Maybe then people would stop telling me that I chose the right profession “because I get to knock off at 3:00”. If only they knew….