Reflections of a First Year Teacher - Part One

You attended your teacher course (wherever that may have been), you've done your papers, been lectured, you've done some time in the classroom during your course, and they have told you you are now ready for your own classroom.......

Next step land your first job.....

Then you are actually the teacher, for real.

You have to be, up the front of the room teacher, you have little faces looking at you expectantly (I mean you know what you are doing....don't you).   But then you find out just how different life is when you have your own classroom, you are in charge, there is no one at the back of the room you can turn too....your it!

Are you going to make mistakes?  You bet!  I sure as heck did, so I thought I would share some of the things I learnt as a First Year Teacher.

1 - Do Sweat the Small Stuff.

Lets face it, we are sitting at the mat with our first ever class, we have heard the message at training "don't smile for the first 3 months' but lets be real here for a moment, are you going to enjoy being a teacher if you constantly have your grumpy/serious face on for 3 months? No! Are the kid's going to enjoy being in your class - NO.

But here's the problem, we sit in front of that class of eager faces that you want to get to know and who want to get to know you so we start of friendly, really friendly, we tell them we are going to have so much fun this year.  We are excited (and nervous/terrified) for this journey to start.  We are determined to be the best teacher ever and our kids are going to love us!

And then we make our first mistake, we ignore the little things happening on the mat, those things that in themselves really don't seem that big a deal (for now) so we don't really want to make a big deal out of it, so you let it go.

I mean you don't want to be THAT teacher after all.

So here's the next big BUT - Not doing so means the little behaviors become big behaviors or a behavior that has you wanting to tear your hair out 3 months later.  Then you have to try and take the class right back to the beginning and try and undo the damage,  which is sssooo much harder!

Oh boy it can feel like your nit picking at first, almost like your a drill sergeant calling them out on every infraction, but trust me you need to.  But only for those first couple of weeks.   Don't get me wrong, you don't have to be mean or sound nasty, but you do need to do a quick friendly reminder of the behavior you expect of them (e.g. we listen when someone else is talking Johnny), and a little firmer if needed.

Wondering what those behaviors are for you - think back to your training and you were in someone else's class, what behaviors annoyed you, what did you see that you didn't like - those are the behaviors that you want to focus on.

For me it was mat manners - oh boy those got me.  Not sitting properly on the mat, thinking you could lie around on the mat during instruction time, talking when someone else was talking instead of listening and calling out answers when I have said hands up don't call out.  They were my biggest bug bears and I didn't get it right at the beginning of the year, I didn't model it correctly and consistently in those first few weeks and I felt like I was chasing my tail trying to correct it further down the track.  Am I going to do it different this year - you bet.

I know it sounds silly to 'model the behaviors you want but (especially for younger students) if you don't actually act out what you don't want to see (and you can have so much fun with this) they often just don't get it or don't understand.  On the flip side you also need to model want you do want to see as well - and you then rope them into modelling it (you will always have some kiddo's keen to do this).  

2 - Being Prepared

Oh my goodness, it doesn't matter how great a lesson plan you have or how long you think an activity will take, there will always be days that things do not go to plan.  Whether it be a school scheduled in activity that eats at most of your lesson time except it leaves you 10 minutes to fill, or what you thought was at least an hour long lesson & follow up activity but they had it finished in record time, there will always be 'what now moments'.  My current school is great in the sense they encourage 'play is learning' within the junior school (as long as the academic side is met of course), but play means stuff being brought out, and stuff being brought out means mess, and mess means time needed for tiding up, and by the time they have gotten stuff out and then tidied up there ain't any real time to play.

So have a plan, have activities or have a book ready to go to fill in that time.

I learnt quickly to have a draw of activities ready for those moments.  Inside was simple activities like sight word/equation coloring sheets which are real win-win as there is academic and fine-motor skill practice happening and most kiddos love to color and I had my fall back of Bump Games that were always a winner and had them practicing both math and phonics (depending on the game).

I also had a prepared book or two each day by my chair so at the very least I could sit and read them a story (and reading to them is gold).  I would even go as far as prepping some questions on a post it note that could lead to some discussions!

A real life saver for me this year was using Go Noodle (click here to find more and sign up), there is two versions, the free one and the paid one.  Trust me if you don't have the funds for the paid one, the free version is wonderful.  There are songs for teaching, songs for movement, songs for silly time and songs to calm and relax.  The songs range from 2 minutes to 5 minutes - but don't worry they always want more than one song as they race to 10 and see what the character will change into (hey by the way, you sneak maths in here too with facts to 10 win-win).

The bonus they are getting movement and getting the wiggles out and double bonus you join in and you are getting movement.  I had a rule everyone had to stand and if you didn't want to dance you had to walk on the spot - everyone had to move somehow.  By the second term all my kiddo's were trying to dance - they just couldn't help themselves 😂

3 - They do not all have to go to the toilet at the same time.

It's true, they do not have synchronized bladders as much as they try and tell you that they do, and yet no sooner does someone raise their hand to say they need to go (or give you the hand signal) then you have at least five others doing the same.

My rule quickly became one girl, one boy at a time, that's it, no exceptions (okay I did make the odd exception but that's when I got to know the body language of a few of them and I would rather break the rule than have an accident on my floor!).

It's amazing how quickly some of them forget that they needed to go when they can't go straight away - it's like magic.

4 - Some days you will feel you suck as a teacher.

There is no other way to put it.  There are days you will feel like you suck, that you don't know what you are doing, that you have stuffed everything up and that you are a fake who hasn't been caught yet.
This is so NORMAL.  I doubt you will find a teacher who has never had this thought, hey reality check here even veteran teachers can feel like this sometimes - if you are in any teacher Facebook groups you will find posts from teachers who have been in the game for years saying that they just don't know what to do with their students this year.

The reality is there will always be challenges to overcome, there will always be students that test us to our limits of understanding and patience and there will always be days that we feel as teachers we didn't live up to our ideals.  Remember to there will always be days when you as the teacher are having a bad day (for whatever reason), you aren't at your best.

I have had a few of them, I have actually stood with my head against the wall for almost all of the morning break wondering just how I was going to manage to get through the rest of the day.  How I got through the rest of the day, I'm not actually sure, but I know there were a few tears on the way home.  Coping with those days can be hard, but they are just that 'days'.  Find someone safe who you can talk to, often just unloading can give you clarity, or unload it all onto paper.

5 - Stop and Give Them Time:

This seems so simple, they come up to you eager to tell you a story or just interact with you, but your in the middle of preparing something for the next lesson, next day, next whatever.  So you keep doing it and sort of pay attention, or worse you tell the child "Sorry I have to finish this we will talk later".

DON'T DO IT!  Stop what you are doing and give that child the 5 minutes they need. 

It's hard, I know it's hard, you have all these things you would rather be doing, but that 5 minutes is gold, it's the connections, its the attention that child may need to stop being the disruptive child 10 minutes after the bell rings cause they needed that bit of attention.   And here's something else to remember, you may have been the first adult to stop and listen and give attention to that child that morning.  Now this doesn't matter if you a in a low or high economic area, with how busy mornings can be at home, some children just don't get the 5 minutes they needed to be heard.

Have I been perfect with this - nope - did it make a difference when I was - yep!  With my most difficult student last year that 5 minutes in the morning of eye contact conversation made a huge difference to his behavior for the rest of the day.  So this is a big one for me to be very aware of as I head into my second year.

Wow that was a long post....problem is I think there is still a little more to say, I think that will have to be a part two.

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