A week of highlights

This week has been highly stressful, but extremely satisfying and very productive. Some of the best moments of my teaching career (although it is very limited!) have occurred this week, right on the back of feeling highly frustrated with myself for the year 9 assessment and feeling disillusioned about year 10, who, after building momentum and making great progress, have been disrupted by a couple of students who have returned to school after considerable truancy.

Tuesday saw a great lesson with year 8, who I have been frustrated with all term. I spent a period with them editing, discussing and sharing story writing tips. Most of them, even the often troublesome students, were excited to share their story with me, and with each other. Students’ stories were then submitted to a local program to be published. I was impressed with the stories which they were producing, and also with the rate of completion. Almost every student had submitted a story, and they had made a valiant attempt (considering their effort in previous tasks).

But the highlight of the week was having a notoriously troublesome student hand in their first seriously attempted assessment task on time in years. He stayed at lunch time to finish the assessment, and handed it in a day early to ensure he didn’t forget. After I helped him at lunch time with it, he thanked me several times, and then told me to have a good day. Another teacher walking past the classroom almost fainted. Then I got the warm fuzzy feeling from calling his father, who only hears the negative things, and informing him about his son’s achievement.

Despite having 2 other students completely off the rails that lesson, I also had the satisfaction of reading five or six students’ finished essays and seeing how far they had come from knowing next to nothing about poetry to being able to explain the humourous tone in a poem.

To top it off, I get to spend 2 days this week at a languages conference networking with other new scheme teachers and sharing ideas and resources.

Year 7, usually little darlings anyway, have been working on a task which requires them to expose themselves to a variety of cultures. In a little town like ours, this is a valuable (and rare!) opportunity for students to interact with something beyond football, netball and the river. The task has engaged some of the more reluctant kids, with 2 of the class clowns presenting their information as an Indian cooking show using images of food and teaching students some vocabulary (they are required to teach the class 5 words in the language of the country they have chosen).

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.